Copyright © 1997. All Rights Reserved.
by Will Self
Many are the times when people wake up and feel not quite themselves after a night of serious booze drinking and drug taking. In fact, it sometimes takes a good day or two to really get back on your feet and back in the swing of things. That is unless you're a character in Will Self's latest novel, Great Apes, where Simon Dykes, artist, father, all-around human, has awoken one morning alongside his girlfriend/consort Sarah only to find a repulsive, hairy ape in her place. Simon's calls for help are answered, in turn, by other apes, which results in Simon having a mental breakdown on the spot. What is happening? Where are all the humans? Where did these evil "dark creatures" come from? And why the hell is he now one of them?
Self brilliantly creates a world which, according to Dykes, has gone mad, yet according to all other "sane" creatures in the novel, has never changed. It is primarily populated and ruled by chimps, with humans resigned to enclosures in zoos. Planet of the Apes references abound, except for the fact that in Self's ape-world, the movie was actually called Planet of the Humans, with Charlton Heston (one mighty fine-looking chimp) in the leading role. Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey? World-renowned leaders in the field of human studies, of course.
The terminology used in this novel is cleverly constructed to reflect the domination of chimpanzees over the world. Humanity is now "chimpmunity," talking is "signing," and the most common (and socially necessary) form of greeting and consoling is to groom one another.
Aside from being an entertaining read, true "escapism" if you will, Great Apes is also a book that's major element is science. You would be hard-pressed to finish this book and not be sneaking off to some dark corner to contemplate the meaning of life. Either that or you'll be grunting and pant-hooting your way to work, kissing your boss's ischial plate....
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