I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the last month and, by and large, it’s been tremendously trashy stuff because my mind is a little mushed by the painkillers I’m taking. That all changed, however, when I was provided with Great Apes by Will Self.
This rather bizarre but nevertheless compelling novel forces the reader to abandon their perception of a world dominated by humans and instead embrace a London full of chimps living out their daily lives. Humans and chimps have swapped places and this leaves humanity stuck behind bars in zoos, in scientific research facilities, and growing ever rare in small parts of Africa while the chimps knuckle-walk the streets, working, partying, living.
It starts with an artist named Simon Dykes (living in the usual perspective of a human-based world, or at least thinking he does) who, after a particularly big night out, wakes up to discover a world full of chimps. This sends him round the bend a little and through him, and his belief that he is in fact a human, we learn more about chimpunity. It’s a book that requires the reader to constantly be thinking and processing – the word ‘chimpunity’ and others take a bit to get used to – but that also put me in a better frame of mind for examining my own humanity.
Here’s the thing that’s special about this book for me. Firstly, it highlights the plight of chimpanzees in the world. You can find out more on Jane Goodall’s website but in short there’s fewer of them and we, humanity, are doing some pretty awful things to them in the name of scientific testing. Secondly, I found myself thinking and examining my own humanity. Why was I born human? What is it that makes me human? Why do I do the things I do? What are my motivations and how we do relate as a human community? Big stuff and I don’t actually know if I’ll ever have the answers but I like that a book encouraged me to think about these things.
I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone looking for something with a different perspective to read. It challenged and intrigued me. It’s beautifully written and Will Self’s prose is gorgeous. I loved it!