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THE SWEET SMELL OF PSYCHOSIS by Will Self, illus Martin Rowson, Bloomsbury pounds 9.99
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The Independent Culture
Richard Hermes is a lowly hack whose life revolves around his part-time job at Rendezvous, a "loathsome and affected" London listings magazine, and the Sealink Club in Soho, "a dark, humid environment in which fungal tittle-tattle could swell overnight". In the opening scene (opposite) Richard and his friend Todd take bets on whether punters in the street below are going to have the bottle to enter a prostitute's lair. The game soon turns nasty with the arrival in the club of Bell, an overbearing radio personality and presenter of the phone-in show "Ring My Bell".

Richard is both attracted and repelled by Bell's disturbing physicality ("a minotaur body ... thick of bone and intractable of muscle); his response to the beautiful columnist Ursula Bentley is more straightforward. "Ursula wasn't just wearing a short skirt, she was wearing a pelmet - a little flange of thick, green brocaded material that hung down, barely covering her lower abdomen ... Richard let fly with a deep, glottal groan." Martin Rowson, Self's collaborator, has imagined Richard as a golden-haired innocent along the lines of Fotherington Thomas - albeit a permanently tumescent one.

Will Richard succeed in making Ursula notice him before he implodes with thwarted lust and excessive cocaine intake? Will he ever fathom the strange relationship Ursula has with Bell? And will he be in a position to enjoy Ursula's charms anyway, since he is swiftly sliding down into mania?

Self's slight, sexually explicit fable bubbles with filth and bile, and Martin Rowson's splendid illustrations, unlike Richard, always rise to the occasion. The final descent into sexual hell is particularly memorable. A withering attack on the meeja is hardly ground-breaking stuff, but the details - a men's style magazine called Cojones, the Shell Oil Festival of Indigenous Music, a confessional column "Peccadillo" sniggeringly dubbed "pick-a-dildo" - are spot-on.

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