Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker by Will Self

One of the best books I've read in recent years was Will Self's Book of Dave, so when I saw his name come up on one of the titles available on NetGalley I just had to request it. This is a far cry from his fiction, however, as The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker is a collection of Self's "Real Meals" columns from the New Statesman magazine.

Unlike his previous job as The Observer restaurant critic, for the New Statesman Will Self undertakes reviews of the places where the masses eat in Britain today; places like McDonalds, Greggs, Pizza Express and KFC. He shows a particular fondness for the foods of yesteryear, going out of his way to track down a traditional pie and mash shop, a 1970s Indian restaurant complete with flock wallpaper, or a genuine Aberdeen Angus steak house (I thought they'd gone out of business years ago, but it appears they're still hanging on by their fingernails).

If you are looking for an objective critique of the food served up in these establishments then you're looking in the wrong place. I'm fairly sure that's not what the readers of New Statesman wanted either, so fortunately we are treated instead to a display of Will Self's acerbic wit and mastery of vocabulary while he ponders the nature of the people who eat, work and enjoy these places. We get a little window on Will Self's life as he drags various friends and relations into restaurants they otherwise wouldn't be seen dead in, and are even told an estimate of the number of pizzas he has consumed in his lifetime (quite a scary thought!).

Some people dislike Will Self's style intensely. I have heard him described as a show-off, pretentious, full of his own importance and unnecessarily verbose. I admit he's not a particularly likeable chap, but there's no denying that he can amazing things with the English language and I can't help but admire him. He writes with such fluidity and with such an original turn of phrase that even when he's writing about something as prosaic as a kebab I want to memorise the precise way he puts the sentences together and quote him endlessly.

My only real criticism of this book would be in its editing, as there were columns included which reviewed restaurants that are only to be found in London. I'm sure there would have been enough columns to choose from over Self's three year stint at New Statesman to have picked ones that everybody, not just Londoners, could have related to.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker is part of the Penguin Shorts series of ebooks, which are designed to while away a long commute or protracted lunch break, and it fitted into this niche very well. As for me, I'm moving my next foray into Will Self's fiction - Dorian - much nearer the top of my TBR pile.


  1. I got this through NetGalley but it doesn't have the Kindle option so I'm unlikely to read it.

    1. That's a shame. My ereader's a sony, so I got it to work, but it did take quite a bit of faffing about as my ereader doesn't seem to get on too well with that Adobe editions program they use.