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The Sweet Smell of Psychosis: A Novella

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  599 ratings  ·  41 reviews
A brief and brilliant satire of magazine hacks and fashionistas, The Sweet Smell of Psychosis shows Will Self - a writer acclaimed as "a masterly prose-maker" by London's Sunday Times - at the top of his form. It looks as if it's going to be quite a Christmas for Richard Hermes, powdered with cocaine and whining with the white noise of urban derangement. Not so much enfold ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published August 9th 1999 by Grove Press (first published November 21st 1996)
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May 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: england, fiction, london
A representative dose of queasy verbal pyrotechnics from the morose sesquipedalian, this time animated by a loathing of the London media scene. Our protagonist – fractionally less dislikable than the rest of the cast – is a third-rate hack called Richard Hermes who, like his divine namesake, moves between the worlds of the living and the dead, though in this case (unlike other Self novels) only metaphorically. Hermes is drawn to a depressing coterie of media hangers-on and general Popbitch pundi ...more
Anthony Vacca
Jul 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anthony by: MJ Nicholls
Will Self's nasty little novella puns its title off of the American noir classic The Sweet Smell of Success (which, to my noir-loving shame, I have yet to watch), but goes down a much sleazier and anatomically repulsive rabbit hole (I assume) than any that Burt Lancaster or Tony Curtis went down in that flick.

Richard Hermes is a young reporter who falls under the thrall of Bell, a real villain of a media personality, and his cabal of sycophantic hack newsmen, all of who do double duty as his pe
MJ Nicholls
This is the most physically disturbing work by Will Self I've read (it actually made me semi-gag in places). Does that grab your attention?

Written in collaboration with tip-top cartoonist Martin Rowson, who provided a dozen or so ghoulish drawings, this is one of the most interesting little finds in Self's burgeoning oeuvre.

The story is almost atypically Self-ish, centring around a weedy hack desperate to claw his way into a subcultural journalistic elite in London (of course), and equally desp
Nate D
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: britain, read-in-2018
Completely sealed in a lightless world of formed entirely of the compressed ichor and ennui of the London tabloid news circuit. This is a novella in the sense of everything-not-purely-of-the-primary-bludgeoning-black-satiric-center-has-been-expunged, and generally benefits from it: compressed, punchy, horrible. Even the grotesqueries of the illustrations point right back into the grimy decaying heart. Obviously it's single-minded, but quite successfully so. ...more
Carmilla Voiez
Mar 10, 2013 rated it liked it
I loved Great Apes so I wanted to read more by Will Self. The Sweet Smell of Psychosis is a short read. It's about a journalist who becomes obsessed with the hub of a clique, a huge man called Bell. The novella has many funny moments and it is as confusing to read as it is to experience psychosis. Will Self is a master of prose. The reason I ranked it on the low scale was perhaps that I simply didn't get it. The story is about men. The only female character is merely an object of lust for the pr ...more
Aug 07, 2012 rated it it was ok
Seedy satire. Not a pleasant read. Although the language is playful and poetic. (But Mr. Self’s writing usually is, even if that playfulness is sometimes overwhelmed by the implosive cynicism he’s having fun with.) Occasionally it’s maybe a bit too much (a typical sentence: “The apex of this pyramid of ephemera, ministered to by a pretentious priesthood, was the morning editorial meeting.”) Rarely is it too little (but: “The trip-hop tripped and hopped.”)

His cynicism can make for a tough read o
Andrew Francis
Sep 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fans of Will Self’s characteristically very wordy and darkly comic writing style will enjoy this work. I enjoyed the quality of word-play and observational wit (reminiscent of Tom Sharpe) but didn’t find any of the characters sympathetic enough to feel strongly about this work. It’s a short and cleverly written and I would recommend it to readers who are not of a prudish constitution.
Jan 29, 2011 rated it did not like it
Oct 31, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Our library randomly acquired an entire back catalog of Will Self and the best way to easy into that sort of thing is usually with a novella, so I checked it out. And…ok, interesting. Definitely different. Originally published in 1996, it is actually dated as such, just very reminiscent of the glitzy, overindulgent, coke binged fiction of the era, from late 80s to 90s. The story follows a young(ish) journalist as he climbs both social and career ladders in the business rife with…well, glitz, ove ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I've been a big Will Self fan since I was in high school (in America), but EVERY single British person I've ever met who knows him can't stand him for some reason. I'm so glad I don't know what they apparently do.

This short book was a look at this totally awful world of celebrity journalists and drugs and clubs, revolving mainly around the protagonist and him being in love with this super hot chick who by turns tells him she likes him and then ignores him. Lurking in the background is this powe
If you enjoy British satire that's almost too awful/gross/disturbing to read, then The Sweet Smell of Psychosis will be right up your street. This seedy little novella takes the reader on a depraved journey into the murky underbelly of London's most notorious news hacks, as it centres around a young reporter named Richard who is trying to make a name for himself.

You'll hate all of the characters and their exaggerated stereotypes, you'll despise the crude language and you may feel physically sick
Vincent Konrad
Dec 01, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Tepid story and overwritten
Nov 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
a less imaginative Martin Amis book with a lot more alliteration. the fish in the barrel meet the expected fate.

"Self is sometimes presented as a bad-boy outsider, writing, like the Americans William S Burroughs and Hubert Selby Jr, about sex, drugs and violence in a very direct way. Yet he is not some class warrior storming the citadels of the literary establishment from the outside, but an Oxford educated, middle-class metropolitan who, despite his protestations to the contrary in interviews,
Paul Blakemore
Jul 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
I'm not sure the term novella even applies here: it feels like a shaggy dog story or even just a 90 page set up to a vulgar joke. 

It manages to be playful (in a grim and utterly sardonic way) as well as obscene at the same time. The people, events and even the vocabulary itself seem to revel in their own gratuity. I just didn't see the worth in delving into such a seedy and mean-spirited world. 
Mar 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Starts well but gets mundane. Feels like an interesting satirical insight at first but loses its cutting edge quickly even though it's the slimmest volume I've read since Jean Rhys. Slightly reminiscent of Tom Sharpe except Tom Sharpe is more entertaining. I always feel like Will Self has something to say about the comedy and bitterness of life but it sometimes outsatirises itself. ...more
Jan 06, 2008 rated it liked it
The writing, as much as the story, is what makes this book perhaps worth reading. The author has a strong command of vocabulary.
Jul 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A near-perfect novella, and a great one for a commute to work. Minor man of letters in a drug-fuelled descent into contemporary London Hell. Beautifully written.
Aug 07, 2012 rated it liked it
It is amazing how much fucked up-ness one can fit in so few pages. Great writing...fucked up characters...good times.
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
I mean wtf did I just read
Oct 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
TOTALLY enjoyed this. Listen, do not bother reading it if you find revolting descriptions off putting. Because this book is the epitome of depraved. Richard is a pathetic little man with lacking self esteem and poor self control.

We see how he begins as a man who wants to save his job and climb up the societal and occupational ladder but ends up getting too envolved with 'rungs' so to speak and essentially falls through.

We follow this with ease not because it is lovely and easy to read but beca
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Self can definitely (over)write.
But, you know, it wasn't as bad as I anticipated.
But, you know, he really is needless with the old, wordy words and that.

It was fine though and actually FUNNY.
Although I wasn't particularly grossed out until that ending which was really super gross.
It wasn't bad actually.

Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
First time reading Will Self. He said some good things about Alasdair Gray somewhere, sometime, so I sought him out. Not that great, though. The illustrations were good, but I don't like Self's writing style much. The subject matter doesn't in itself trouble me, and this kind of thing can be done quite well, but not here. ...more
Mar 21, 2020 rated it did not like it
would give 0 stars if possible.
literally terrible.
i was so bored and the characters were SO unlikable, that even if they were SUPPOSED to be unlikeable, i still couldn't get through it and it is A NOVELLA.
Samuel Barnes
Jan 26, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Self's mastery of the English language is in full force here. He effortlessly blends elegant prose with low-brow vulgarity. He also weaves the surreal and the supernatural into gritty reality in a way that catches you off-guard and leaves you shaken. ...more
York Underwood
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A short, dazzling novel with sentences that pounce off the page.
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Impressive vocabulary and a great writing style.
The whole book is like an introduction to a big ass joke. Quite disturbing, disgusting and not to forget hilarious. I enjoyed this little gem.
Tom Dixon
Oct 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fantastic novella with some very disturbing illustartions.
Oct 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Self adorns his writing with a combination of both loquacious wordplay, and tumescent lexicon that results in an epic narrative of grandiloquent verbiage. He is far from being an easy read, an effect that he produces a mordant, tongue in cheek appraisal of today’s society. While his writing sounds intellectual it is often used to describe life’s most absurd and facile events. Caustically mocking the values of our societies, he takes the perspective of postmodernism and exploits it to its ultimat ...more
Susan Rose
This short novella* is written in Will Self's cuttingly witty,grotesque, cynical style, (if you don't like bad language and heaps of detailed sexual references he might not be for you). It follows Richard a sleazy member of the London media scene and his drug filled misadventures in the Sealink club. As its only a tiny book I don't want to give away any more, except to say this novella is filled with the worst types of people and if you don't like reading about unlikeable characters you may want ...more
Simon Crowe
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Having only read My Idea of Fun by Self beforehand, this exceeded my expectations – this, in turn, may have contributed to the five stars. Between occasional rushes for my dictionary, I lapped it up: prose both punchy and verbose and wit mostley mordant, at times insightful.

It was no longer than it needed to be, the caricatures were as fleshed out as they needed to be and the stereotypes were naked stereotypes. What it had in common with My Idea of Fun was the (view spoiler)
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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.

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