Its subtitle – A Relevation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future – gives away some of the plot (I won’t give any any more here than is written on the back of the book itself. ) The narrative is split: half of it is about Dave, a London cabbie who becomes estranged from his family, has a breakdown, and writes a book of deranged ramblings for his son. The son never receives it; however, the book is discovered in the far future (when rising seas have flooded much of the world) and becomes the basis of a religion for what remains of Britain.
The book is challenging for several reasons. Self writes his modern-day cabbies with cockney dialog. Much of the future dialog – a blend of cockney and text-speak – is very hard going (though there’s a handy glossary in the back). The chapters alternate between the past and the future, and are dated, but are not told chronologically. It must have taken no small amount of planning to write the story. The past is more character-driven, as Dave loses his grip on reality and reacts to recent historical events. The future is more plot-driven.
Like much of Self’s work, real-life events are woven into the fictional mix. You have to be familiar with London to understand some of the detail, but it’s not necessary for the story.
I enjoyed it on a lot of levels. The parts about London, especially areas I’m familiar with, made it feel more real. The future society Self imagines is weird but not wholly implausible. The “big themes” are the modern family and, of course, the sources of organised religion.
A good read.