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Two novels and two story collections into his heavily-hyped career as the Dark Prince of post-Martin Amis British Lit, Will Self remains an enigmatic talent. At his best (My Idea of Fun), his fiendish perversity and sheer verbal dexterity border on a kind of vertiginous greatness; at his worst, he seems like a literary one-trick pony, a writer whose plots can be reduced to punch lines. (In his twin novellas Cock & Bull, a woman sprouts a penis, and a man grows a vagina.) Reading this new collection of stories, however, you sense anew that what makes Self's work so welcome is less his Kafkaesque darkness than the wild-eyed humor that undergirds it.
The nine stories in Grey Matter are full of Self-ish situations: in one, a group of average Londoners discover that they secretly control the actions of everyone in the city; in another, a single dying relationship unleashes a kind of romantic anarchy and everyone breaks up with each other. As you skim along, you're consistently prodded awake by the strange, Nabokovian gleam in Self's eye. "The words pooted from her kissable lips," he writes about a young secretary in one story, "inappropriate little farts of desire." At another point a character rages, apropos of very little: "I'll give you notes from underwater! I'll give you a bloody lobster quadrille! This is the fin of your fucking siècle!" If he can hone his flame to a tighter burn, Will Self may yet actually become a significant fin de fucking siècle genius himself. -- Salon