The Book of Dave NPR coverage of The Book of Dave by Will Self. News, author interviews, critics' picks and more.
NPR logo The Book of Dave

The Book of Dave

by Will Self

Hardcover, 495 pages, St Martins Pr, List Price: $24.95 |


Buy Featured Book

The Book of Dave
Will Self

Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How?

Book Summary

Dave Rudman, a disgruntled East End taxi driver, writes down his woes, frustrations, and pet peeves and buries them, only to have them discovered five hundred years later and used as the sacred text for a religion that has taken hold in the flooded remnants of London.

Read an excerpt of this book

NPR stories about The Book of Dave

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

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Book Of Dave

The Book of Dave

A Revelation of the Recent Past and the Distant Future


Copyright © 2006 Will Self
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-59691-123-9


1 The Hack's Party: JUN 523 AD..........................................12 Trapping a Flyer: December 2001.......................................273 The Geezer: SEP 509-10 AD.............................................584 The Family of Man: June 1987..........................................875 The Exile: OCT 523 AD.................................................1176 The Skip Tracer: April 2002...........................................1447 Broken on the Wheel 510-13 AD.........................................1718 The Shmeiss Ponce: September 1992.....................................2019 The Lawyer of Chil: Kipper 523-4 AD...................................23410 The Riddle: August 2002..............................................26211 The Forbidden Zone: Kipper 522 AD....................................29612 The Book of Dave: October 2000.......................................32113 New London: MAR 524 AD...............................................35714 Getting Out from Behind the Wheel: February 2003.....................38915 The Moto Slaughter: JUN 524 AD.......................................42216 Made in China: October 2003..........................................452Glossary................................................................479

Chapter One

The Hack's Party

JUN 523 AD

Carl Dévúsh, spindle-shanked, bleach-blond, lampburnt, twelve years old, kicked up buff puffs of sand with his bare feet as he scampered along the path from the manor. Although it was still early in the first tariff, the foglamp had already bored through the cloud and boiled the dew off the island. As he gained height and looked back over his shoulder, Carl saw first the homely notch of Manna Bä, then the shrub-choked slopes of the Gayt rising up beyond it. The sea mist had retreated offshore, where it hovered, a white-grey bank merging with the blue screen above. Wot if Eye woz up vair, Carl thought, up vair lyke ve Flyin I? He put himself in this lofty perspective and saw Ham, floating like a water beetle, thrusting out angled legs of grey stone deep into the placid waters of its ultramarine lagoon. The waters intensified the beetle island's myriad greens: its golden wheatie crop, its purple, blue and mauve flowering buddyspike, its yellowy banks of pricklebush and its feathery stands of fireweed. The whole lustrous shell was picked out by a palisade of blisterweed, the lacy umbels of which trimmed the entire shoreline.

The real island was quite as vivified as any toyist vision, the southeast-facing undulation of land audibly hummed. Bees, drugged by the heat, lay down in the flowers, ants reclined on beds of leaf mould, flying rats gave a liquid coo-burble - then stoppered up. To the south a few gulls soared above the denser greenery of the Ferbiddun Zön.

The little kids who'd left the manor with Carl had run on ahead, up the slope towards the Layn, the avenue of trees that formed the spine of Ham. These thick-trunked, stunted crinkleleafs bordered the cultivated land with a dark, shimmering froth. Carl saw brown legs, tan T-shirts and mops of curly hair flashing among the trunks as the young Hamsters scattered into the woodland. Reedy whoops of joy reached Carl's ears, and he wished he could go with them into Norfend, galumphing through the undergrowth, sloshing into the boggy hollows to flush out the motos, then herd them towards their wallows.

Up from the manor in a line behind Carl came the older lads - those between ten and fourteen years old - whose graft it was to oversee the motos' wallowing, before assigning the beasts their day's toil. Despite everything, Carl remained the acknowledged gaffer of this group, and, as he swerved off the path along one of the linchets dividing the rips, the other eight followed suit, so that the whole party were walking abreast, following the bands of wheatie as they rolled up the rise.

Carl remembered how this ground had been in buddout, each rip mounded with a mixture of moto dung, seaweed, birdshit and roof straw. The motos had deftly laid their own fresh dung, but the other ingredients had to be dug from the byres, scraped from the rocks and gathered from the shore by the older girls and opares. Next the mummies laboriously dragged truckle after truckle of the mixture up from the manor, before spreading and digging it into the earth with their mattocks. There were no wheels on Ham - save for symbols of them - and therefore no cars or vans either, so the Hamsterwomen tilled the long rips themselves - a team of six yoked to the island's sole plough, with its heavy irony share. Now the ripening wheatie stood as high as his knees, and it looked as if it would be a good crop this year - not that Carl would necessarily be there to see the mummies grind it under the autumn foglamp, their bare breasts nuzzling the hot stone of their querns as they bent sweatily to the graft.

- Ware2, guv, said Billi Brudi, catching Carl's eye as they reached the linchet bordering the next rip and together stepped over it.

- 2 Nú Lundun, Carl replied.

- Ware2, guv, Sam Brudi chipped in - and his brother Billi chimed up:

- 2 Nú Lundun.

Then Gari Edduns uttered the salutation, and Peet Bulluk made the response - and so it went along the line. Between them the nine lads represented all the six families of Ham, the Brudis, Funches, Edduns, Bulluks, Ridmuns and Dévúshes. Good, solid Ingish names - all from the Book, all established on Ham from time out of mind, as rooted as smoothbark and crinkleleaf.

At the top of the slope the land formed a sharp ridge, which fell away in narrow terraces to the waters of Hel Bä. On a knoll on the far side of the water stood one of the five old round towers the Hamsters called giants' gaffs, foglight flashing from its chipped wall. Carl's companions, having reached the edge of the home field, followed the dyke up to the Layn, then walked south along it for three hundred paces, to where a stand of pines guarded the moto wallows. Carl parted from the group and took one of the terraces that curled round the bay to the foot of the tower. Here, in the crete rubble, a few dwarfish apple trees had taken root. He found a level flag and sat down.

Twigs stubbed him through his coarse T-shirt. Brown and white butterflies flip-flopped over a stand of fireweed. Bees came doodling down from the bank of pricklebush that rose up, barring the way to the Ferbiddun Zön. Carl tracked the sticky-arsed stopovers as they wavered down to the water's edge, where squishprims, dry-vys and heaps of other blooms grew between the hefty, hairy stalks of the blisterweed. A stone's throw into the bay the submarine reef of seaweed and Daveworks eddied and swirled in the sluggish swell. Carl could see the bright, red shells of the crabs that teemed on the reef, and in the muddy shallows of the lagoon little gangs of rusty sprats flickered.

Carl leaned his head against a bar of old irony and stared at the delicate tracery of lichen that covered the crete at his feet - living on dead, dead on deader. A low clattering buzz roused him, and, peering at one of the apple trees, he saw that its trunk was mobbed with a dense cluster of golden flies, which spread and agitated their wings the better to suck up the bigwatt rays of the now fully risen foglamp. To leave all this - how would it be possible - this life mummy that cuddled him so?

Carl had been to this spot maybe two or three times with Salli Brudi - and that was forbidden. They'd get a cuff from their daddies and a bigger clump from the Driver if they were found out. The last time she'd whipped off her cloakyfing and wound it around her pretty ginger head like a turban. As she bent low, the neck of her T-shirt gaped open, showing her tiny titties; yet Carl understood there was no chellish vanity in this - Salli was too young. She held a Davework in her hand: it was the size of a baby's finger, a flat black sliver with a faint-cut mark.

- Wot chew fink, Carl, she asked him, reel aw toyist?

Carl took the Davework from her; his thumb traced the edge, once jagged but now smoothed by its millennia-long meander through the lagoon since the MadeinChina. He looked closely at the mark for the shapes of phonics.

- C eer, Sal, he said, beckoning her closer, iss an éd, C ve eer, an vose lyns muss B ... Eye dunno ... sowns aw sumffing ... mebë.

- So toyist? She was disappointed.

- Toyist, deffo. He flung it decisively away from them, and it whirred like a sickseed for a few moments before falling into the grass.

Carl started up - what was the point in such dumb imaginings? Cockslip an bumrub, nodditankijelli snuggul. Sal Brudi ul B up ve duff soon enuff bì wunnuvose ugli öl shitters ... No, he best forget it, forget her - and get up to the wallows. Whatever might happen in the next few days, this tariff he had graft to do, important graft.

* * *

When Carl arrived the other lads were milling between the seven conical wallows, darting among the motos to kiss and cuddle them. Peet was guiding Boysi by his jonckheeres up the steep steps of the highest wallow.

- Ul luv í ven yer inní, Boysi, he was saying, U no U will, yeah, U no U will.

Boysi turned his big pink muzzle, and his little blue eyes, buried in their fleshfolds, twinkled with recognition. Carwl! Carwl! the moto lowed, Carwl, wawwow wiv mee, wawwow wiv mee!

Carl let out a peal of laughter - it was impossible to stay gloomy for long when the motos were being wallowed. Boysi's dam, Gorj, was already half submerged in the next wallow along, snorting and funnelling her lips to squirt the weedy-green water over her wallow mates. Hands of humans and hands of motos shot above the earthen parapet, flinging screenwasher arcs of droplets as they mucked about.

- Eye carn, Boysi, Carl cried, Eye gotta fynd Runti, iss iz turn, iss iz big dä.

- F slorwa, f slorwa! Hack cummin, Hack cummin! the beast chanted as he heaved himself up the last two steps to the top of the wallow, then plunged in, dragging Peet with him. Other motos took up this cry:

- F slorwa, f slorwa, Hack cummin, Hack cummin!

While Carl doubted any of them truly understood what the slaughter was, the motos knew it was connected with the visitors who were due.

Even the littlest mopeds such as Chukki and Bunni were alive to what visitors brought with them. After the Hack's party arrived, at least half the lads who mushed the motos would be sick with the pedalo fever, so the beasts would be free to cruise as they wished, clear along the underwood to the curryings, and even into the zones, where they'd thieve the gulls' eggs and stuff themselves with shrooms. Motos were soppy things, yet, sorry as they might be for their young mushers, being shot of them was a buzz. Day by day they could be relied on to do as told: Rootaht vat rat coloni, grubbup vis unnerwood, gé shottuv vat notweed. However, left to their own devices, they'd soon be babyishly dry-humping, which could well lead to motorage. Then they'd run amok, trampling down the walls of their own wallows, or even crash into the Hamsters' gaffs. Each year one or two of the friskier males would have to be gelded.

Carl stood watching as first one moto, then the next, was coaxed up and eased over into a wallow, until all seven were occupied. The other motos waited their turn, snuffling and licking each other's buttocks and flanks. Each elevated pool of muddy water was just broad enough to hold one of the creatures. Once in, they used their webbed feet and hands to turn in a tight circle, ducking their little mushers.

By now the bank of sea mist had pulled still further away from the island, far enough for Carl to make out the outcropping of the gull roost at Nimar, five clicks away at the very tip of the long spit that extended from the northern island of Barn. It was around this promontory that the Hack's pedalo would come with its load of sick fares bound for Ham, the isle of the Driven-by-Dave.

Carl thought about the Beastlyman, the tongueless exile who lived at Nimar. On summer days such as this, he could be seen from the highest point of Ham, skipping among the rocks - or, rather, the gulls he disturbed could be seen, flapping aloft and eluding his clumsy, hungry grasp. Last summer Carl had been taken for the first time on a fowling expedition over to Nimar, and, while the other Hamstermen snared prettybeaks and grabbed oilgulls from their nests, he'd guarded the pedalo at its mooring. It was typical that the youngest birder should be left like this, to suffer the repeated attacks of the bonkergulls, who, determined to protect their nests, dived at Carl again and again, trying to plant their sharp beaks in his head.

None of the dads had bothered to tell Carl from whom he was guarding the pedalo, so when the Beastlyman crept up and Carl was confronted by an emaciated figure, clad in a long filthy cloakyfing, its beard and hair matted with dirt, its hands cracked and broken, he was totally freaked out. They'd stared at one another for a long time, with only a few feet separating them. Oilgulls that had escaped the hands of Carl's mates screamed overhead. The Beastlyman opened his mouth and tried to give voice as well, and Carl saw in the dark cave the red root where his tongue had once been, uselessly writhing in the gargling gale of the dad's madness. Carl said, Ware?, guv, but the Beastlyman only flinched as if struck by the greeting, then scrabbled round on the rocks and scrambled away.

When the dads returned to the pedalo, the corpses of many birds stuck by the neck into their tight leather belts, their beards damp with sweat, Carl told them what - or who - he had seen.

- So Uve clokked ve Beestlimun, av U, Carl, said his stepdad, Fred. Eyem glad, yeah, coz thass wottul áppen 2 U if U go on fukkinabaht in ve zön wiv Tonë!

Fukka Funch, never one to miss the opportunity for a crude jape, thrust his bacon schnozz in Carl's face and did a Beastlyman shtick, gargling and spitting until Fred snapped:

- Thass enuff!

His half-brother Bert broke in on Carl's reverie, asking:

- Djoo wan me 2 cumman gé Runti wiv U?

- Nah, nah, he stuttered, vis iss tween me an ím an Dave. U an ve lads betta gé ve wallowin dun an pack ve uvvers orf. Runti - eez mì mayt. Av U ló sed yer tartars 2 Runti? he called to the wallowing motos.

- Goo-bì, Wunti, goo-bì! they lisped in response.

- Catch U lò bakkat ve manna, Carl called to the other lads, then he started down off the crest of the hill and into the woodland.

The first few paces Carl took were between well-spaced, carefully pruned apple trees, the turf beneath them moto mown. The warm air was fruitylicious and butterfly rustled. As he went further down into the Wess Wúd, the orchard gave way to smoothbark trees, some of which had been allowed to grow straight and true, while others were cut back to near their mossy green roots, so that they erupted in a clatter of withies. He bore to the right, crashing through the brack and keeping the winking jewels of Mutt Bä at a constant distance below him.

Carl had a pretty good idea where Runti would be waiting for him. The moto loved to graze in the deep thicket of rhodies and whippystalk that choked the Perg, the long barrier of brick and crete that divided the Wess Wúd from Norfend. There were odd hollows and man-made terraces here, full of strange flowers and shrubs that the Hamsters had no names for, since they were too rare and peculiar to be of any use. However, the Perg was an ancient name, and Effi, Carl's nan, had told him that it too had once been regarded as a zone forbidden to the Hamsters. She had cradled the little lad in her bony arms and said, Nó bì Dave, luv, nah, ee wooden giv a toss abaht such fings, but ferbiddun bì olda gods, yeah. Her fleshy nose twitched in his hair. Bì Jeebus an Ali.

Carl found Runti a little way inside the Perg. The big moto had his front paws up on a lump of crete and was cropping on a plant with glossy, serrated leaves. The fodder was caught up in his muzzle as if he had a spiky beard, and Carl couldn't help but laugh at the sight. Runti stopped munching and his mouth fell open, showing his lolling pink tongue and his peg teeth braided with vegetative threads.

- Cawl? he lisped. Ithatoo?

- Yeah, iss me, Runti. Iss me.

The boy struggled through the barbed boughs of a stunted tree and came right up to the moto so that he could hug his head - a head so large that, even pressing his tank against the jowls, Carl could only just join his hands in the rough bristles at the back of the moto's neck. They stood like that for some time, the moto's blubbery eyes squished against the lad's chest, his veggie breath rasping on Carl's shirt.

- Iss tym, Runti, Carl cooed, tym fer yer slorta, yeah? Ve Acks partë ul B eer vis tariff or ve nex, an Eye gotta tayk yer bak 2 ve manna.

- Slorwa, the moto said wonderingly, slorwa.

- Thass rì, Runti, slorta. Weel uze yaw meet 2 feed ve Ack an iz dads, yer oyl fer vair woonz, an yul be wiv Dave á lars, yeah.

- In Nú Lundun.

- Yeah, thass rì, Carl said, kissing Runti delightedly, in Nú Lundun. It mattered not what doubts the lad had, for, in this article at least, the creature's simple faith and his own scepticism were at one.

They took all morning to get back to the manor. Carl led Runti round the northern end of the Perg, then up and down the bumps and dips of Sandi Wúd. He'd played here with Runti all of his life. When he'd been a tiny boy, the moto had minded him - and when he grew older, he had minded the moto. They revisited all of their favourite haunts: the big hollow crinkleleaf that stood at the edge of the curryings, the ridged bark of which was perfect for scratching moto hide; the boggy slough in Turnas Wúd, where Runti could wallow; the grove of silverbarks in the heart of the wood, where they stopped so that Carl could tear off A4 strips and feed them to Runti on the palm of his hand.