This is a short collection of essays by Will Self on the kind of food that most people have had at some point in their lives, though the author makes it clear that when he means most people, he means the working to middle classes He writes about the types of fast food and restaurant chains that pop up on many, if not most British high streets, such as McDonalds and KFC as well as things like Pizza Express and Browns Self is normally a very verbose writer, and while this is the case here, it is still a quick, easy read He does come off as rather snobby, especially when describing the types of people he finds in the eateries he visits, but I have to admit that he still made me laugh. Although I m a big fan of Will Self s non fiction, I shouldn t really have this I bought it last year on Kindle, and realising only after purchase that it was likely to involve a lot of detailed writing about meat, I returned it Having completely forgotten all of this and the ensuing thoughts, I repeated the entire process about a month ago Only this time I was unable to return it presumably because I d already done so before, which isn t a policy one can argue with too much in the circumstances and when said item only cost 1.99 in the first place I am trying to whittle down my unread Kindle books by actually reading them and this, being short, was an early target Rather like the debt of a recent graduate, my quantity of unread physical books has seemed unconquerable for years and never seems to decline substantially What s another five when there are already over 250 of the buggers But the Kindle books, being much lower in number, seem quite possible, with the exception of a few I know I just don t want to finish Here as ever I love the way Will Self s words make my brain fizz Metaphors that make me want to jump up exclaiming exactly or which, in bringing together previously disparate ideas, feel like wires being moved to complete a circuit so a bulb springs to light The union of high and low culture with sparkling chemistry Uses for all that vocab I gathered up whilst reading the greatest hits of Victorian literature in my teens Looking up words is frequently cited as a hazard of reading him, one that doesn t seem to bother me so I decided to get the measure of my arrogance with some stats 4 words I really did need to look up, one an abbreviation found in Urban Dictionary 4 which were familiar but on whose exact meanings I was rusty and looked up because I d started looking things up 2 whose meanings were perfectly obvious from context but which I decided to look up because I was already doing it and background would be interesting And one which I thought I d spotted him misusing, checked and found out its meaning was less exact than I assumed So those writers whose misuse of relict I ve tutted at are mostly in the clear Yes, it can mean a widow but it s also something which is significantly rarer than it used to be These essays were mostly a lot of fun, but the way he writes about these populist environments also reminded me of the constantly swinging scales of socialism and snobbery in my own head, which I am forever recalibrating depending on whom I m reading listening writing talking to I can t judge him on his tone as some reviewers do, because I know I feel and think like that sometimes whilst at others I feel far integrated into the demotic His descriptions of upper middle class norms were intriguing Both my parents given their former occupations, postcodes etc fit into this bracket but Pizza Express Breakfast in hotel rooms Unimagined extravagance Restaurants and cafes were never a leisure activity, merely a necessity to be used if out of the house otherwise, or away on holiday Anyway, you usually stay in BB s, not hotels Fitting, I suppose with the ethos I ve always sensed in my family that food, whilst it can be nice, is mostly something that s fuel for doing interesting things I can see now that there was always a general living below one s means habit, but in retrospect just as well given the various unhealthy offspring who aren t fully able to support themselves After reading Self s chapter about the thousands of Pizza Express pizzas consumed by his family over many years, I started to imagine much of the stuff in my house transmuted into fancy pizzas, built as it is on not constantly having such fancy versions of things Instead I was used to multipacks of tasteless shrinkwrapped frozen cheese onion pizzas from Bejam or Wm Low It was all very entertaining, but there was one crucial thing missing for me I wanted to hear about some nice food Not posh food, but enjoyed food A certain amount of sensuality not just chaotically spilling kebab sauce all over a train table which is a sort of fun if there s no one immediately glaring at you to clear it up before you next breathe but how good the kebab tasted I remember, as a student, being surprised how nice this much maligned thing was Or something like Nigel Slater s somewhat guilty but hedonistic liking for Big Macs Shhh, but he s right Unless they ve changed them much in the last twelve years He describes the Real Meals column as being about not consuming culture but reading off culture from consumption so it s not like I wasn t warned he s there to observe people and places And as for all the graphic talk of meat I didn t want There are plenty of mentions of meat here but in terms of rearing practices and production nothing I hadn t heard before And Self is one of those very frequently encountered and slightly puzzling people who has a great deal to say about the ethics of meat yet still eats it frequently himself though perhaps it s for health reasons just not specified here, given the blood problems he has after years of injecting drugs. Most Food Writing And Restaurant Criticism Is Concerned With The Ideal, With How By Cooking This, Or Dining There, You Can Somehow Ingurgitate A New Or At Any Rate Improved Social, Aesthetic And Even Spiritual Persona I Aimed To Turn This Proposition On Its Head, And Instead Of Commenting On Where And What People Would Ideally Like To Eat I Would Consider Where And What They Actually Did The Ready Meals, Buffet Snacks And Most Importantly Fast Food That Millions Of Britons Chomp Upon In The Go Round Of Their Often Hurried And Dyspeptic Lives In This Selection From His Hilarious New Statesman Real Meals Column, Will Self Reviews The Chains Where Most Of Us Go To Eat KFC, Greggs, Yo Sushi, Pizza Express And Their Like , Delves Into The Ubiquitous Thai Meal And Chicken Tikka Masala, And Experiences Hotel Breakfasts, Frozen Tv Dinners And Airline Food On Our Behalf These Are Restaurant Reviews Of The Kind You Ve Never Read Before I have often felt that Will Self was not for me Too clever by half, too much using of words that I didn t know, too much drugs, too much superciliousness, too much braggadocio.It turns out that I m wrong As it happens, he s rather good He sends himself up rather a lot in this short book ostensibly a book of restaurant reviews from his New Statesman column, but something that s actually a social commentary and as a result it s rather a good read.The restaurants in question ranging from McDonalds to Greggs, Paul to EAT, KFC to Pizza Express aren t, quite, the standard restaurants for a restaurant review but there again, these aren t the standard reviews anyway.If you wanted an introduction to Self s work, this isn t bad. I particularly enjoyed Self s take on airline meals and the EAT chain of sandwich shops However, Self seems to think factoid means a brief or trivial item of news or information factlet, surely rather than my understanding of the term as an item of unreliable information that has been reported and repeated so often that it has become accepted as fact. Psssst That was the sound of balloons, egos and empires being pricked Gulp That was the sound of realisation that not every top restaurant is good just because you are told it is good, or that the food looks pretty, or that it tastes nice A takeout hamburger can also taste nice and you might equally enjoy it, albeit on a different occasion Yet not many would compare a top hamburger restaurant to a top Marco Pierre White restaurant Or would they Author Will Self, however, is arguing that perhaps too much value is being placed on WHO is cooking what and WHERE it is being served Or a little common sense and a little less snob value Self has been reviewing restaurants for several publications over time and, as he says I never really wanted to review food anyway what interested me were fancy restaurants as a theatrical experience the bourgeoisie ogling itself in a mirrored booth Perhaps now, at last, the time is ripe for a little deflation and maybe we should all start paying attention to what s actually on the end of our plastic forks, not Nigella, Marco Pierre, F ing Gordon and all the other celebrity egg flippers It s in this, grounded, spirit that I undertake to survey the actual establishments where we eat, and the real meals they serve only a fraction of the population will ever nosh in La Tante Claire, whereas, at current sales levels, the 1,154 McDonald s in Britain could serve a meal to every man, woman and child in the country given a mere thirty five days This book is the curated highlights of his New Statesman magazine Real Meals column and it does feel like one of those books you can read and read again A great book to take onboard an aeroplane, for example, and yes, airline food also comes under the spotlight The standard of catering aboard British trains, however, has failed to arrive Many chain restaurants that are found in England and some favourite English foods come under the critical Self spotlight, yet a lot of the same comments ring quite true for other foreign outposts of the same brand McDonald s, KFC, Pizza Express, Belgo and the Aberdeen Angus Steak House are amongst the restaurants subjected to critical, acerbic review whilst holy foods such as Chicken Tikka Masala, Kebabs, Pie and Mash and Bird s Eye frozen foods are piled onto the Self plate and expertly dissected When reading Self s comments about many of the larger chains, one can identify similarities between them and other unnamed chains that operate both in the UK and overseas.Naturally, whilst being an Anglocentric book, one need not be British or planning to eat or not in one of the named establishments or specified foods The quality of Self s observations, comments and thoughts make this a great lightweight read as well as, perhaps, a cryptic, critical, analytical tome, for those closely involved in the food business This is not a bash the rich type book but perhaps, a candid acceptance that the majority of people don t have exclusive access to the so called top restaurants For those who never can go, or don t want to go to a Michelin starred restaurant, perhaps McDonald s or a high street chain serve, in fact, the food they want and enjoy in surroundings that they feel comfortable in and prefer Personal choice, after all, means why take a fish out of water To borrow a current McDonald s slogan, I m Lovin It The character of Oliver Twist can say it better than YUM s reviewer too Please Sir, Can I have Some More The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker, written by Will Self and published by Penguin UK ISBN 9780241962619, 59 pages Typical price GBP1.99 Digital only product YYYYY This review appeared in YUM.fi and is reproduced here in full with permission of YUM.fi YUM.fi celebrates the worldwide diversity of food and drink, as presented through the humble book Whether you call it a cookery book, cook book, recipe book or something else in the language of your choice YUM will provide you with news and reviews of the latest books on the marketplace. The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker is a collection of Self s Real Meals columns from the New Statesman magazine Unlike his previous job as The Observer restaurant critic, for the New Statesman Will Self undertakes reviews of the places where the masses eat in Britain today places like McDonalds, Greggs, Pizza Express and KFC He shows a particular fondness for the foods of yesteryear, going out of his way to track down a traditional pie and mash shop, a 1970s Indian restaurant complete with flock wallpaper, or a genuine Aberdeen Angus steak house I thought they d gone out of business years ago, but it appears they re still hanging on by their fingernails If you are looking for an objective critique of the food served up in these establishments then you re looking in the wrong place I m fairly sure that s not what the readers of New Statesman wanted either, so fortunately we are treated instead to a display of Will Self s acerbic wit and mastery of vocabulary while he ponders the nature of the people who eat, work and enjoy these places We get a little window on Will Self s life as he drags various friends and relations into restaurants they otherwise wouldn t be seen dead in, and are even told an estimate of the number of pizzas he has consumed in his lifetime quite a scary thought.Some people dislike Will Self s style intensely I have heard him described as a show off, pretentious, full of his own importance and unnecessarily verbose I admit he s not a particularly likeable chap, but there s no denying that he can amazing things with the English language and I can t help but admire him He writes with such fluidity and with such an original turn of phrase that even when he s writing about something as prosaic as a kebab I want to memorise the precise way he puts the sentences together and quote him endlessly My only real criticism of this book would be in its editing, as there were columns included which reviewed restaurants that are only to be found in London I m sure there would have been enough columns to choose from over Self s three year stint at New Statesman to have picked ones that everybody, not just Londoners, could have related to.The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker is part of the Penguin Shorts series of ebooks, which are designed to while away a long commute or protracted lunch break, and it fitted into this niche very well. I still don t see the point of reading restaurant reviews for pleasure. It s not so long ago that I wrote that of My Dining Hell Penguin Specials Twenty Ways To Have a Lousy Night Out and yet here I am again In my defence, I also pointed out in that review that I saw little point of reading reviews of places I was unlikely ever to visit and on that score, at least, reading this book does not lead me into the realms of hypocrisy.Will Self was, apparently, once a restaurant critic for The Observer I didn t know that Between 2009 and 2012 though, he wrote a serious of columns for The New Statesman where he sought to explore what people actually ate rather than dining out as aspiration It s some of these columns that are reproduced here Chinese takeaways, McDonald s, Caf Nero, Bird s Eye microwave meals Moreover, Self devotes little space to discussing the food and considerably to the social and political questions that surround them.The author s flocculant verbiage his phrase not mine will not be to everyone s taste even if I enjoy it in places It can in fact be summed up neatly by that phrase what s wrong with woolly words The meaning of them is no less precise and in fact would be widely understood and so convey his message better, there s also a nice alliterative quality to them The choice of the words he did use then, conveys not so much a desire for precision or even a joy in the use of language but rather a desire to show off I d suggest, given his own description, that it s something he s aware of.Self is arguably almost as famous for his politics as for his long words and it shouldn t be any surprise that this is a largely iconoclastic, if slightly left leaning collection of writing I suspect anyone picking this up will know exactly what to expect and won t be disappointed in those expectations. Condescending sneering and cocking a leg and pissing over the Working Classes culinary habits is not my idea of fun It s one of those newspaper columns filled with hot air and profoundly stupid opinions, shame on you Will Self, pass me a warm pastie. I m very biased when it comes to Will Self and when I saw this advertised on Netgalley I knew I would have loved it regardless.This a short collection of musings and observations based upon the style of restaurant reviews that you regularly see within popular tabloids aimed at the middle classes These reviews are on places that us regular people attend frequently instead on the Michelin starred restaurant eateries that we could only see on TV and whatnot.A lot of the places that Self has critiqued in this book, and gave for the most part very humorous anecdotes, are regular places that I have visited myself on than occasion and his observations are hilariously correct Some of the venues in this book I have never heard of but can appreciate his review and think of similar places that I have frequented.This is an excellent short book for anyone with a sense of humour and can appreciate how truly awful some of these popular restaurants actually are Note When I read this book, I was hearing Will Self s voice in my head and picturing him in his many appearances on Grumpy Old Men which I like to think I am an honorary member of honorary because I do not have male genitalia This was a good thing and made the book all that enjoyable An advance reader copy was kindly provided by Netgalley
William Self is an English novelist, reviewer and columnist He received his education at University College School, Christ s College Finchley, and Exeter College, Oxford He is married to journalist Deborah Orr.Self is known for his satirical, grotesque and fantastic novels and short stories set in seemingly parallel universes.
- 59 pages
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being a Prawn Cracker
- Will Self
- 10 July 2018 Will Self