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Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes (edition 2009)

by Will Self

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1351988,991 (3.45)18
Member:plabebob
Title:Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes
Authors:Will Self
Info:Penguin Books (2009), Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
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Liver: A Fictional Organ with a Surface Anatomy of Four Lobes by Will Self

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» See also 18 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
I read this after hearing Self read from the first story 'Foie Humain' at a reading for his latest book Umbrella. That was hilarious, & this is by far the best thing by Self I have read (I haven't read Umbrella yet). 3 stories & a novella, all centered around the human liver. The three stories are typically wickly funny & perverse for Self, but the novella Leberknödel is a straight & very moving account of a woman who goes to Dignitas as she is dying of liver cancer. This is a brilliant collection. ( )
  marek2010 | Dec 24, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I had a tough time getting into this book given the depressing nature of the subject matter. I kept trying to get through the stories but found myself continually putting it down. I still haven't finished the novel. Though I have to say that I liked Self's use of descriptive language and story organization. I appreciated his wit and creative play with words. I just found that the writing did not flow. ( )
  rennefish | Nov 24, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I am having a hard time reading this book. I enjoyed the first story, "Foie Humain", until the end threw me a curve ball that I found distasteful. Now I am bogged down in "Leberknödel", which has moments that I've enjoyed, but ultimately I feel like it is going on too long. Every time I finish a section I hope it is over, but it seems interminable. I want to like Will Self-he's British! it's satire!-but the tone & pacing of this book is making me dread picking it up again. Maybe I should try skipping to a different story-other readers seem to be giving it very favorable reviews...
  shalulah | May 12, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It's quite clear that Will Smith didn't just have a good idea, it was an excellent idea. Four works, thematically linked through the liver that would even mirror the liver's lobes in size and each would have portions of the other stories flow through them even though the stories were quite different. I can almost picture this writer's ah-ha! moment where all of this came to him and he knew that this could be something really good.

Unfortunately, instead of being delivered a lovely selection of pates to sift through and sample, we were handed a plate full something that suspiciously resembles cat food. It's not the unlikable characters; I have a library full of books and characters I can't stand. It's not that some of these plots meander and go off the track at times, for I have read many a book that seemed to do this for the better part of the novel only to pull things off at the end in a brilliant way. But combine these issues with the plot points ripped off from Twilight Zones that have been remade into Treehouse of Horror episodes, or grabbing plot elements from a film as awful as Stigmata or trying to re-create Trainspotting with a pop-culture bond...well, that doesn't even get into the horror that is a modern-day Bewitched with Greek Gods that sounds like some re-worked treatment for a bad television series pitch (we'll do a major myth every week, but we'll have the drama of the ad agency and plenty of sex and romance!). It's not that these things were ripped off whole cloth, but you get the gist...

In short, it's like sitting down at a restaurant that promises exciting and innovating food only to discover that their appetizer course is not only straight out of the 90s, but done by a chef that felt that he could rely on the reputation of foie gras instead of learning to cook it properly. ( )
1 vote | stephmo | Apr 7, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Warning: This review contains spoilers.

Liver is a collection of four long stories, linked both thematically by the titular organ and by references to certain people and places. Self seems to like depicting the human race as tools or manipulated beasts, since three of the stories — two explicitly, one implicitly — do so. Unfortunately, all the stories are unpleasant, unsatisfying, or both.

The first story, "Foie Humain," sets the stage, centered on the Plantation Club, a private bar in London. The characters, especially the (apparent) protagonist, are so repellent that I found it difficult to finish the story. The surprise ending comes out of nowhere, and while certainly these characters deserve to have aliens harvest their livers, I find it difficult to believe that a cirrhotic liver could be a delicacy, even for extraterrestrials.

After finishing that first piece, it took me a couple of days to pick up the book again, because I dreaded meeting more unlikeable characters. Fortunately, "Leberknödel" is the best of the four stories, with a complex but sympathetic protagonist. I found the story unsatisfying because of plot problems. (I know, how lowbrow of me, to care about plot!) The main action of the story seems to come from the urge by a small group of Catholics to prove to the Church that the protagonist's cancer remission is a miracle, and her difficulty in deciding how much to cooperate. However, that part of the story just peters out without being properly resolved. There's a brief interval in which the author writes as though the character's body is controlling her against her will, which is odd because it was not previously set up in any way. The ending is depressing but believable, although I felt that the character's suicide was insufficiently motivated.

"Prometheus" is a story full of Greek mythological figures, or at least characters with their names, participating in the modern business world. I was intrigued by the idea of an adman whose liver is devoured three times a day. However, the story ends oddly, indicating that — the last scene? the entire story? It's unclear — was all a dream, er, a commercial. The story has the feel of a gimmick Self couldn't quite figure out what to do with, so he went with cheap irony and an even cheaper ending.

Finally, "Birdy Num Num" brings us another set of unlikeable characters, although these heroin addicts are less repugnant than the alcoholics of "Foie Humain." Self uses the device of having the story narrated by an AIDS virus, once again depicting humans as prey or food, although this time that is clear from early in the story. The conceit of one of the addict's obsession with the 1968 movie The Party is clever, but otherwise the story feels irrelevant and dated (it is set in 1998), not to mention pointless.

Will Self is clearly a talented writer with a gift for language and creating memorable characters (though he really needs a better copy editor, or at least one who knows a little Latin). But I cannot recommend Liver to anyone who actually enjoys stories, not just clever fictional creations with no real point. ( )
  jmeisen | Feb 17, 2010 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
Ecstatically evoking miasma, Self’s prose is feral in pace, always zeroing in for the kill: ad men are “coddled by a warm albumen of piped-in pop culture”; a woman, after a bout of joyless sex at a hotel, confronts “the pathos of the hand towels.” But the characters, pruned of any redeeming virtue, are difficult to like, and too often the cup of bile runs over.
added by stephmo | editNew Yorker (Dec 21, 2009)
 
Certainly, there are real and original pleasures to be had from these stories, particularly from Self's extravagant and startling sense of language, as well as from the imaginative extremity of his vision. But they are not warm or merciful. These are for those who like their stories brainy, cunning, hard-edged and diabolical.
 
Is life worth living? The corny old answer, that it all depends on the liver, is one that Will Self, in this smart, beguiling and occasionally stomach-turning book of four linked stories, finds only partly adequate.
 
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Epigraph
Who sees with equal eye, as God of all,
A hero perish, or a sparrow fall,
Atoms or systems into ruin hurled,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world.

Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, I, 87-90
Dedication
For Marc, Georgia and family
First words
Val Carmichael credited Pete Stenning--who was always called 'the martian'--with getting him off the gin and on to the vodka. [Foie Humain]
Joyce Beddoes - Jo, to her friends, Jo-Jo, sometimes, in frank intimacy, to her late husband, and also t her daughter, Isobel, when she was a child - wanted to get her head down between her knees. [Leberknödel]
Prometheus stands, quivering, by the water cooler in the inert core of the open-plan offices of titan, and advertising agency renowned throughout London - and beyond - for its genius at breathing fire into the most sodden products, and the dampest services; igniting them, then fanning them up, so that their notoriety leaps and spreads from demographic to demographic, until entire populations are consumed by a mania for their possession. [Prometheus]
What's my name? My name is legion, for I - we - are many. [Birdy Num Num]
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"Ah! Val Charmichael's nose - a treaties could have been written on it; indeed, it looked as if an unseen hand had begun to do exactly that - poking with steely nib at its sub-surface blood vessels and pricking them into the raised, purplish calligraphy of spider angioma, a definitive statement that the Plantation Club's owner was already in the early stages of cirrhosis."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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