July 7, 2011

The Book of Dave- A Review

Before I left for summer,  a colleague at work gave me a copy of The Book of Dave by Will Self and suggested that I take it with me as summer reading. Never one to directly say no to a book, I said sure and packed it as my only summer book. Tipping the scale at nearly five hundred pages, I figured it would keep me busy.

Let’s start with a brief review; what better place to start that the Wikipedia synopsis:
The Book of Dave tells the story of an angry and mentally-ill London taxi driver named Dave Rudman, who writes and has printed on metal a book of his rantings against women and thoughts on custody rights for fathers. These stem from his anger with his ex-wife, Michelle, who he believes is unfairly keeping him from his son. Equally influential in Dave's book is The Knowledge—the intimate familiarity with the city of London required of its cabbies.

Dave buries the book, which is discovered centuries later and used as the sacred text for a dogmatic, cruel, and misogynistic religion that takes hold in the remnants of southern England and London following catastrophic flooding. The future portions of the novel are set from 523 AD (After Dave).The book alternates between Dave's original experience and that of the future devotees of the religion inspired by his writings.
As is the case with most dystopian novels, I began feeling lost and confused. I immediately regretted having strayed from my literally routine of handpicking each book I read. The novel begins in a bizarre futuristic English landscape where the characters speak in a muddled language called Mokni, an invented dialect of English derived from Cockney, taxi-drivers' and Dave's own usages, text-messaging, and vocabulary peculiar to the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

It took about a hundred pages and a trip back to the twentieth century for me to finally find my footing in the language. But once I did, I began to see the beauty of what Self was doing- Using a sharp and critical satirical prose, he carefully crafts an intricate novel of amazing depth. There is not much more to say- there is never a point where The Book of Dave is not extremely well written. The stories from the past, present and future seamlessly intertwine to create a biting mirror reflecting the hypocrisy and absurdity of religious dogma. I will end the review here, by saying that this is a novel that is worth your time. Before I end this post, I did want to make some comments about the thoughts that were alighted because of this text.

While I often expose an aggressive atheism, I like to think that I tote a robust and healthy spiritualism. I am a seeker and enjoy contemplating spiritual matters. Never one to shy away from discussions about the purpose of life, morality, or the human condition, I am always looking for conversations about topics steeped in mysticism and exploration.

What has always turned me off religious discussions is the certainty of truth. The reliance (faith) on dogma and holy books. The prescriptive rules and hoop jumping of organized salvation is not for me. Let me wallow in a Walt Whitman poem, or Rumi, or Bukowski, till I see a light that guides me through the darkness. Your “book” may be the outline that leads you to peace, but it lost me when it demanded that I should have dominion over all the creatures of the earth, or when it took it upon itself to classify certain forms of sexuality as abominations.

Be kind. Love your enemies. Show compassion. Treat others as I would like to be treated. These are ideas I can get behind, and honestly the holy books hold no monopoly on these ideas. 

What does any of this have to do with The Book of Dave? Throughout the novel, Self creates a world that illuminates the childishness of relying on scripture as self-evident truth that should be followed to the tee.

I often found myself shaking my head at the idiocy of the men of Ham as they were misguided by the madness of Dave Rudman. Dave unleashes a rant at the zeitgeist of a psychotic breakdown, that becomes The Book for the future denizens of Hampstead. I couldn’t help to think how much of the material from our holy books could have been written by, if not madmen, than surely by the non-evolved minds of a tribe of desert nomads two thousand years ago. The realization that so much of our world is dictated by interpretations of random thoughts of ghosts from the past would be ludicrous if it were not so sad

Whether you are religious or not, this is a thought provoking novel that will leave you questioning how much of the holy books were meant to be questioned and how much was meant to be lived. What do you think? Do we still need such a prescriptive guideline to direct our morality? Be kind. Love your enemies. Show compassion. Treat others as you would like to be treated. We haven’t even gotten that right yet. Isn’t that enough? Maybe once we can learn to be openminded and loving we can begin to worry whether or not women are less than men because they came from a man who was made from mud in the image of a loving/vengeful god.

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