Liver: A Fictional Organ With a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes by Will Self

A book of four (lobes) short stories, all focusing on the liver. Cleverly written by Will Self which although slightly grotesque in some places, captivated me. What I loved about this book is not only the storyline, and the way that all four of the stories linked in with one another,  but also the way Self writes. He has a sophisticated style of writing and the imagery he creates is fascinating. Self has said that he does not write novels that people will be able to relate to, but to astonish them, the world in his books are not meant to be believable. And that is the perfect way to describe this.

The first, Foie Humaine, written about the Plantation Club owner, Val Carmicheal, who drinks incessantly for years, and the devastating effect it has on not only him but also to his barman, Hilary. During the story many of the members are slowly killed off by the drink, which heightens the implications of heavy drinking. The ending is shocking but also interesting. Each member of the Plantation Club has a nickname and as the plot progresses, one nickname in particular is reflected as accurate. Self has the ability to write about something quite horrific in a way that makes it seem almost trivial, and then you realise that what he has described is deeply disturbing.  The ending I though was not expected and enjoyed the twist, to some extent!

Liberknöden, named after the Liver Dumpling dish of Germany, is written about a woman who travels to Switzerland to undergo euthanasia due to a liver disease. She panics at the last moment, abandons her irritating daughter to a woman’s prison and tours Zürich. This allows her to take life at her own pace and get acquainted with the Catholic priest.

Prometheus is third, and is my personal favourite. It takes a twist on Greek mythology, making Zeus an entrepreneur, Pandora a glorified prostitute and Prometheus and Epimetheus advisory agency executives. Thus the story continues with Prometheus having his liver eaten daily but a vulture. This leaves him with a less functioning liver which can never fully regenerate. What I liked most about this story was the ironic but surprising (not so surprising now) ending.

The final story is Birdy Num Num, which I struggled to understand, I don’t know why, maybe my mind was elsewhere when I read it? From what I gather it was hardcore drug use and the effect that this had on the liver.

The stories all link together in some way, whether they be characters or places. This, I found great, as it meant that they were all connected but still short stories with different plots. I did enjoy this book and would read it again, mostly to glean something from Birdy Num Num. It is disturbing but strangely engrossing and possibly unlike anything that I have ever read before.

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