Special topic 2: satirical apocalypse: Endism and the 1990s fictions of Will Self

Katy Shaw, Philip Tew

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


The fictions of Will Self, a quintessential bad boy of 1990s literature, adopt satirical approaches to narrative, form, language and characterisation to offer disconcerting truths about the pre-millennial human condition. Marked by a self-conscious style, his writings manipulate generic conventions to disrupt expectations, using parody, pastiche and intertextuality as tools to represent tensions inherent to the turn of the century. Employing fragmentation, discontinuity and generic instability, Will Self’s fictions from the 1990s reveal new perspectives on the late twentieth century world. Exploring representational possibilities in an anxious society fragmenting world, his writings are generated by a period that foregrounded the very concept of endings. The 1990s marked a change in direction for the fortunes of Britain as the end of the Cold War, the rise of the Labour Party and discourses of ‘Cool Britannia’ began to develop. But this period of positivity and hope for change was short lived; the approach of the new millennium brought with it new challenges and threats both to society and the future of literature itself. Questioning the centrality of “the story”, Self’s fictions from this period tear apart narrative, re-imagine language and reconfigure form to offer new ways of understanding pre-millennial experience.. As a cultural critic and commentator on social and political events, Self is interested in the breakdown of societies and individuals. His work offers a distancing inversion of reality, fuelled by drugs, sex, psychology, science, extreme states of mind, acerbic wit and absolute transgression. In his madhouse fictions of the absurd and grotesque, Self offers contemporary satires on pre-2000 Britain. This chapter argues that Self uses satire to interrogate the “Endism” of this period, challenging perceived conclusions to evolution, gender and time at the close of the twentieth century through his use of humour and literary form. Interrogating interrelationships between love, anger, longing, power, isolation, dependence, hopelessness, depression, trauma, transition and crisis, his 1990s fictions present a controversial perspective on pre-millennial anxiety and search for a mode in which to speak of resulting anomie and doubt.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe 1990s: A Decade of Contemporary British Fiction
EditorsNick Hubble, Philip Tew, Leigh Wilson
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages28
ISBN (Print)9781441172587
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2015

Publication series

NameDecades Series


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