Published: Eye Books (March 2018)
A memoir of literary ambition
‘A moving lament for a vanished age’ – Financial Times
The scene is a remote cottage in Suffolk in the 1990s.
Will Self, newly divorced, is the in-demand enfant terrible of the British literary scene. Matthew De Abaitua, an eager young writer fresh out of Malcolm Bradbury's Creative Writing course at the University of East Anglia, is excited to be hired as his ‘amanuensis'.
It's not obvious what that intriguing job title will entail. In this unique, frank and often very funny portrait of one of our most talked-about and controversial literary figures, Self & I charts the highs and lows of the experience.
It is a compelling account of a remarkable time in Britain and British literature.
“An utterly compelling account of what it means to read, write, live and breathe literature. Anyone interested in the world of letters will devour this book with delight.”
“Very funny but with an undertow of melancholy, Self & I is at root a hymn to the vocation of writing and, as such, sings to all us nearly-writers, wannabe-writers and sometime-writers (i.e. all writers) with the ecstasy of scripture.”
Will Ashon, author of Strange Labyrinth
“A delicious peek into the Will Self 'industry' and the vanished publishing world of the Nineties, but it's also a wonderful, highly readable book about love and dedication.”
Lauren Elkin, author of Flâneuse
“The title might nod to Withnail, as do some of the odd couple’s odder exploits – including the consumption of many a “special cigarette” – but this erudite yet hilarious account will resonate with anyone trudging in the footsteps of a more successful figure.”
“This book comes very close to being a classic memoir of literary apprenticeship. Hilarious...”
“[Matthew De Abaitua’s] memoir of six months working for Self begins as an intoxicated, madcap romp, before it takes some unexpectedly touching turns… The Self & I title is a deliberate homage to the funny, melancholy slovenliness of cult film Withnail & I… As we find out more about the author’s early life, myth separates itself movingly from reality… A final section about an old lost school friend is devastating too, beautifully exploring what happens when our dreams run away from us. Standing alone, Self aside, his tale really ascends.”
Mail on Sunday ****
“This ‘memoir of literary ambition’ is also a lament for a vanished age of publishing and writing, seen from across the gulf of digital media. This was pre-Harry Potter, and thus predates the infantilisation of an entire reading generation. Sales of literary novels were substantial, large advances relatively common and book prize-winners worthy and uncontroversial. The fact that a cult author could want, could afford, a live-in assistant, however lowly, now seems astonishing.”
“De Abaitua is a good storyteller, and his book gives us precisely the Self we might hope for... possessing a feverish hilarity that owes a debt, as De Abaitua acknowledges, to Withnail and I.”
"This sincere, touching book”
“If you love Withnail & I, you must read this hilarious and unexpectedly affectionate account of the period the author spent working as Will Self’s amanuensis in a cottage in Suffolk in the mid-90s, a job which required ‘a relentless willingness to participate in the unusual’. Self was then newly divorced and the in-demand enfant terrible, but really the book is about De Abaitua, a thrusting young writer fresh out of the UEA Creative Writing MA, and keen to learn from one of his literary heroes, as he tries and fails to write a novel.”
“For some reason, the best books about writing are by would-be authors, following and studying the habits and behaviour of an older, established writer. Funny, perceptive and occasionally tender... Self & I is an entertaining and original study of literary ambition, masked and unmasked.”
“I fully expected both an insightful and a witty read. Did the book live up to expectations? Well, yes it did!”
“A little classic, Self & I is a candid and revealing portrait of a particular artist at a particular time. It is De Abaitua’s book far more than Self’s, and coming from a writer who has already provided us with some of the most original and brilliantly executed science fiction of the past decade, it should be counted as a significant achievement.”
Read a preview of Self & I in the TLS
We celebrated publication of Self & I with a substantial excerpt in the Sunday Times magazine. You can read the extract here (paywall).
And here's a 12-minute podcast of Matthew talking about (and reading from) his memoir on the Janice Forsyth Show on BBC Radio Scotland: