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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Junk Mail

Will Self

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To purchase Junk Mail

Title: Junk Mail
Author: Will Self
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: (1995)
Length: 405 pages
Availability: Junk Mail - UK
  • Collects pieces written 1992 to 1995
  • Includes cartoons by Self

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Our Assessment:

B : enjoyable though largely incidental pieces

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator . 11/4/1995 Jake Michie

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The complete review's Review:

       Junk Mail collects various non-fiction pieces by Will Self, published between 1992 and 1995. It includes profiles, interviews, book reviews, cartoons (Self has tried his hand at cartoonery), and a lot of pieces about drugs.
       The first part of the book -- nearly a hundred pages worth -- is devoted to the drug-pieces. There are quite a few pieces on William Burroughs, as well as insights into various aspects of the drug scene and approaches to drug treatment and tolerance. Some of this is pure journalism, some is in review-mode. Self visits Amsterdam, a drug treatment clinic, and South London. Despite his own well-publicized ... fascination with drugs, Self isn't a hopeless romanticist about them, and the Dutch scene he paints, for example, is no brighter than one would expect from any journalist.
       Still, he does have a specific view of intoxicants, leading to the judgement:

What is wrong with intoxication in our society is that it is becoming increasingly decoupled from any meaningful ritual.
       The pieces are solid and sensible enough, but it's a lot at one go. As he quotes Thomas Szasz: "The so-called debate on drugs has become boring", and even Self can't overcome that. Bunched up together like this, the drug-pieces are a bit wearing.
       Next up are a few pieces on humour, at least making for more variety. Fun stuff, even if some of it (a slack piece on slacking, for example) is quite predictable. And "Man Enough to Have People Operate on your Penis" perhaps isn't for the squeamish.
       There are only a few book reviews, which is a shame. A motley collection of books, ranging from Adam Phillips' to Jeffrey Dahmer's father's story, are considered. There's a brief Céline-nod, too, but little literature. But there's a longer piece on Woody Allen and his influence on Self which is certainly worthwhile.
       A section of "Features" includes longer pieces -- a visit to Northern Ireland, a consideration of the phenomenon of false memory and sex abuse allegations, a visit to a cryonics facility, and such. These are entertaining pieces, but not much more than magazine-pieces -- Sunday journalism, that sort of thing.
       Self then offers a few profiles -- Szasz, Damien Hirst, Tim Willocks, Martin Amis, and Bret Easton Ellis. All quite nice introductions, though some are already getting a bit dated (they were written to coincide with specific events and releases). Still: also worthwhile.
       The best comes last: two lengthy conversations, with J.G.Ballard and Martin Amis. They are conversations, more than interviews, but all the more effective and informative for that. Self occasionally gets carried away -- "BALLARD: 'The contemporary visual arts are in a parlous condition.' / SELF: 'Aren't they just !' " -- but most of the time he strikes the right tone and position. Ballard on Crash and Amis plugging The Information are both actually interesting and informative -- not the usual puff pieces.

       Self writes with ease and confidence (the ease occasionally admittedly only journalistic facility). He's not outrageous, as one might expect from what the tabloids report of his life (or from his fiction), and his analyses of situations -- drugs, Northern Ireland, literature -- are almost surprisingly sensible. And practically everything is well-expressed: Self knows how to say what he wants to say (many writers -- especially novelists dabbling in journalism -- don't).
       Most of these pieces are incidental, but there's enough here to make the collection worthwhile, and there's not a really weak piece in all of it. Worth dipping into.

       Right -- we almost forgot. There are some cartoons too. Self doesn't draw as well as he writes, but there are a few fun ideas here. But we could have done without their inclusion.

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Reviews: Will Self: Other books by Will Self under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • The collection of essays, Alasdair Gray, with an Introduction by Self
  • Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Will Self was born in 1961. He has written numerous acclaimed works of fiction, as well as a great deal of non-fiction.

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