'The Book of Dave': A Cabbie's Review

British writer Will Self has a new novel, The Book of Dave. It's the worldly testament of a London cabbie. The ideal man to review it is Will Grozier, a London cabbie who frequently chats with Scott Simon about books.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The British writer Will Self has a new novel, "The Book of Dave," the worldly testament of a London cabbie. We found the ideal man to review it, our friend Will Grozier, the ideal London cabbie who talks with us about what he's reading from time to time. Will joins us from our NPR Studios at Wishouse(ph) in London.

Will, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. WILL GROZIER (London Taxi Driver): A good afternoon, Scott. Nice to talk to you again.

SIMON: Let's try and set up the story. Dave is an East End cab driver and he undergoes a painful divorce and writes out what he thinks about the world and buries it for his son.

Mr. GROZIER: Exactly. He buries it because he has a restraining order against him which prevents him from going anywhere near his son or his estranged wife. He dreams up this scheme that some point in time future, when the boy's old enough to understand what went down, he will contact him, a method as yet unresolved, and he will tell him to go into the garden and dig up these tablets.

SIMON: But when is it discovered, Will?

Mr. GROZIER: It all goes all awry, because what happens is that after the burying of the tablets, that there's this great inundation which sweeps over the U.K. and leaves London under fathoms of water, and the only surviving area is an area called the Isle of Ham, which in truth is Hampstead, which is up on a hill in the north of London.

SIMON: And so when this is found in 500 years, it becomes, people treat it essentially as holy text.

Mr. GROZIER: Absolutely. Because there is - there is no other guiding principle by which these people can lead their lives. And so in a kind of way you could interpret this as being very anti-religious. You could almost interpret it as saying, well, if this can happen, then what chance organized Catholicism, what chance organized Judaism or Christianity, if the principles on which we base these faiths are simply tablets of stone we know not from where they come? We are not told from where they come.

SIMON: So much of this book is relayed in the special language of London cab drivers.

Mr. GROZIER: What Self has done, he has translated the whole thing into a phonetic manner of speech so that throughout the book, we have two kind of languages. We have Mockney, which I think we can safely translate as mock-Cockney or perhaps even mocking a Cockney, and RP, is the letters R-P, which is British terminology for received pronunciation

And received pronunciation, as you know, is BBC English.

SIMON: Exactly, yeah. There's a glossary in the back. Did you resort to using it?

Mr. GROZIER: Well, this is a - the funny thing was, when I first looked at it, I thought, oh dear, oh dear, I've going to turn back every time I - and I thought, no, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stumble through this, and then turn back later. And much of it becomes self-apparent. It's not quite as challenging as it first appears.

I mean, if we want to look at other references, we can go to page 176, where the driver, in this religious nomenclature, the driver is effectively the priest who has come back to the island to make sure that these deviant citizens don't go off the strait narrow as far as the good book of Dave is concerned.

And he says, I have heard all about the disgusting practices that you have indulged these past months; that is, a mummy's consulting in gross propinquity. Yet I shall not punish you for it. I come to bring you the book. He flourished a huge leather-bound copy from beneath his robe. See the wheel, read the meter. Know that the final tariff is at hand. Leave this place at once, you miserable perfidious mummies, sullied by rag and blob, whorish, licentious creatures, Chelspawn.

SIMON: Chelspawn?

Mr. GROZIER: Chelspawn.

SIMON: The spawn I get. The Chel?

Mr. GROZIER: Chel, Chel. Now, in real life, Dave's wife is Michelle. Now in the Cockney abbreviative his nickname for his wife would have been Chel. The book, with is obviously a rant against women, you know, these villagers have been guilty of consorting, because according to Dave, and according to the book, men and women aren't allowed to live together. They live separately for half of the week. And then the children change over from being with the father to the mothers. And so this rant by this driver is, again, Will Self being at his vituperative best.

SIMON: However worthy, is this book a hard slog?

Mr. GROZIER: No. It is complex, but it is engaging.

SIMON: Will, thanks very much.

Mr. GROZIER: Thank you very much, Scott. It's a pleasure to talk to you again, as always.

SIMON: Will Grozier, London cabbie and literary critic speaking to us from London. To read an excerpt of Will Self's new novel, "The Book of Dave," you can come to our Web site, npr.org. And tip well.

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Excerpt: 'The Book of Dave'

Cover

From Chapter 10: The Riddle

In the Trophy Room everything had changed. Dave realized this as he walked in through the door. No longer were the plastic chairs grouped in an egalitarian circle; instead there were fully tenanted rows of seats all facing a makeshift podium. On this stood Daniel Brooke in his outsized T-shirt. He gave the newcomers a curt nod, but his attention was mostly on a banner he was fixing up over the trophy cabinet together with a Fathers First member Dave didn't recognize. There was no sign of Keith Greaves at all, and the few faces Dave did know were outnumbered by at least twenty new men. The banner was stretched tight; FIGHTING FATHERS it shouted. 'Right!' called Daniel Brooke. 'Settle down, you lot, we've a lot to get through this evening, and I need maximum attention and positivity... Gary.' Brooke fixed F***er, who was still chatting to his neighbour, with a pointed eye. F***er fell silent.

'I applaud those of you from the old Fathers First group who've had the courage to come with us on this new journey of self-discovery and personal evolution, believe me you won't be disappointed. Keith has his good points, but they're soft ones.' Brooke's eyes kept ranging along the assembled men's faces as he spoke, as if probing them for any softness. 'That touchy-feely stuff may be OK for dads who want to lie down under all the shit they've been dealt out, but that's not what we are. What are we?' He paused and raised his beautifully manicured fist in a swift uppercut.

'We're Fighting Fathers!' the men all bellowed.

'And whadda we want?' Brooke called back.

'Justice now!' the men cried.

The atmosphere of resentful aggression in the room reminded Dave of sour-faced old cabbies moaning on in their shelters. The Fighting Fathers had the distorted mouths and clenched eyes of some bloody Muslim fanatics burning an American flag ...

'Motivation is the key,' Brooke resumed, pacing the little podium. 'Without motivation we cannot hope to have any success with direct action, which is why I'm happy to welcome here this evening a motivational speaker who's going to give it to you straight concerning the Judaeo-Feminist forces lined up against us.' Judaeo-Feminist? 'He runs his own, hugely successful data-retrieval business, Transform Services.' Transform Services? 'He's a leading light in our brother organization, the Stormfront Nationalist Community. Will you give a big dads' welcome please to Barry Higginbottom!'

A man dramatically bashed open the swing doors and stood in the characterless strip lighting of the Trophy Room. It was the Skip Tracer — and the sweat was lashing off him.

**

'A book, you say?' Anthony Bohm looked at the cabbie through the thick, round lenses of his vintage, wire-rimmed spectacles. When a young man, Bohm had affected the glasses as a badge of maturity — the lenses had been of clear glass. However, with an irony that was not lost on him, as Bohm's career had progressed, so his eyesight had satisfactorily deteriorated, until he acquired the searching gravitas of the genuinely myopic.

'That's right, a book.' Dave looked around at the gloomy room, which was dominated by an enormous duct running across the ceiling, the housing of which was covered by flaking tinfoil. A decade-old flyer hung from bashed chipboard by yellowing tape, proclaiming DON'T DIE OF IGNORANCE. The room was somewhere deep in the basement of St Mungo's, a rundown hospital off the Tottenham Court Road.

This wasn't his and Bohm's first session together — they'd had one up at the Halliwick in Friern Barnet, another down at King's on Denmark Hill. Bohm told Dave that he was seeing him 'on an unoffcial basis, it's very much a personal thing between me and Zack Busner', and as the psychiatrist took a series of locum positions around the city, his patient was required to follow. This was no hardship for Dave, who had resumed cabbing as gently as possible, only going out for a couple of hours during the off-peak. He used his weekly sessions as a low-anxiety conduit, picking up fares along the way as he wended to the next rendezvous with the mobile shrink.

'When I was . . . well, y'know, Tone, when I'd lost it,' Dave said, 'I thought there was this book inside me, this book I'd written . . . but now I dunno — I dunno.'

'We've talked about your childhood,' Bohm continued, 'your relationships, your work. I like to think we've built up some trust between us.' He smiled, and his white goatee flicked like a hairy digit. Dave smiled too – anyone with such preposterous facial hair could hardly be malevolent. 'When Doctor, ah, Fanning, prescribed Seroxat for you in 2001 I'm sure he did what he felt was the right thing. However, the facts are that a small minority of patients have bad reactions to the drug – psychoses even. Your book dates from this period. If we can somehow dig it up from your unconscious and, so to speak, read it together, I think it would resolve a lot of your issues.'

Each of these measured remarks had been ticked off by Bohm, one plump finger pulling back the others. He now held the annotated hand aloft. 'Goodbye until next week,' he said, 'when we'll be meeting'– he consulted a fat little Filofax opened on his hefty thigh — 'at the Bethesda in Bermondsey.'

Dig up the book. Dig it up — search for it in the scrubby desert of his own mind. On the poxy little colour telly in the corner of his room, Dave Rudman saw clip after clip, all featuring the same stock characters: UN Inspectors in short-sleeved shirts and sweat-soaked jackets; Baathist apparatchiks in tan fatigues; to one side a gnarled old Bedouin in a dirty white cloakyfing. Behind them, on a plain of gravel that faded to a wavering horizon, stood corrugated-iron sheds and hunks of industrial equipment — hoppers, conveyor belts, ducts — all of them streaked with rust and dust. A mechanical digger petted some sand, arid wind plucked at the corners of the Inspectors' clipboards, riffing the computer printouts. Hard to think of them manufacturing anything there . . . Don't look like they could turn out a bloody widget, let alone nuclear-bloody-weapons . . . Yet Dave could see, in this taut confrontation, a sinister evocation of his own troubled life. Buried inside me...all that sickening guff . . . poisonous thoughts...got to dig it up ...

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