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'The Book of Dave': A Cabbie's Review


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The British writer Will Self has a new novel, "The Book of Dave," the worldly testament of a London cabbie. We found the ideal man to review it, our friend Will Grozier, the ideal London cabbie who talks with us about what he's reading from time to time. Will joins us from our NPR Studios at Wishouse(ph) in London.

Will, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. WILL GROZIER (London Taxi Driver): A good afternoon, Scott. Nice to talk to you again.

SIMON: Let's try and set up the story. Dave is an East End cab driver and he undergoes a painful divorce and writes out what he thinks about the world and buries it for his son.

Mr. GROZIER: Exactly. He buries it because he has a restraining order against him which prevents him from going anywhere near his son or his estranged wife. He dreams up this scheme that some point in time future, when the boy's old enough to understand what went down, he will contact him, a method as yet unresolved, and he will tell him to go into the garden and dig up these tablets.

SIMON: But when is it discovered, Will?

Mr. GROZIER: It all goes all awry, because what happens is that after the burying of the tablets, that there's this great inundation which sweeps over the U.K. and leaves London under fathoms of water, and the only surviving area is an area called the Isle of Ham, which in truth is Hampstead, which is up on a hill in the north of London.

SIMON: And so when this is found in 500 years, it becomes, people treat it essentially as holy text.

Mr. GROZIER: Absolutely. Because there is - there is no other guiding principle by which these people can lead their lives. And so in a kind of way you could interpret this as being very anti-religious. You could almost interpret it as saying, well, if this can happen, then what chance organized Catholicism, what chance organized Judaism or Christianity, if the principles on which we base these faiths are simply tablets of stone we know not from where they come? We are not told from where they come.

SIMON: So much of this book is relayed in the special language of London cab drivers.

Mr. GROZIER: What Self has done, he has translated the whole thing into a phonetic manner of speech so that throughout the book, we have two kind of languages. We have Mockney, which I think we can safely translate as mock-Cockney or perhaps even mocking a Cockney, and RP, is the letters R-P, which is British terminology for received pronunciation

And received pronunciation, as you know, is BBC English.

SIMON: Exactly, yeah. There's a glossary in the back. Did you resort to using it?

Mr. GROZIER: Well, this is a - the funny thing was, when I first looked at it, I thought, oh dear, oh dear, I've going to turn back every time I - and I thought, no, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stumble through this, and then turn back later. And much of it becomes self-apparent. It's not quite as challenging as it first appears.

I mean, if we want to look at other references, we can go to page 176, where the driver, in this religious nomenclature, the driver is effectively the priest who has come back to the island to make sure that these deviant citizens don't go off the strait narrow as far as the good book of Dave is concerned.

And he says, I have heard all about the disgusting practices that you have indulged these past months; that is, a mummy's consulting in gross propinquity. Yet I shall not punish you for it. I come to bring you the book. He flourished a huge leather-bound copy from beneath his robe. See the wheel, read the meter. Know that the final tariff is at hand. Leave this place at once, you miserable perfidious mummies, sullied by rag and blob, whorish, licentious creatures, Chelspawn.

SIMON: Chelspawn?

Mr. GROZIER: Chelspawn.

SIMON: The spawn I get. The Chel?

Mr. GROZIER: Chel, Chel. Now, in real life, Dave's wife is Michelle. Now in the Cockney abbreviative his nickname for his wife would have been Chel. The book, with is obviously a rant against women, you know, these villagers have been guilty of consorting, because according to Dave, and according to the book, men and women aren't allowed to live together. They live separately for half of the week. And then the children change over from being with the father to the mothers. And so this rant by this driver is, again, Will Self being at his vituperative best.

SIMON: However worthy, is this book a hard slog?

Mr. GROZIER: No. It is complex, but it is engaging.

SIMON: Will, thanks very much.

Mr. GROZIER: Thank you very much, Scott. It's a pleasure to talk to you again, as always.

SIMON: Will Grozier, London cabbie and literary critic speaking to us from London. To read an excerpt of Will Self's new novel, "The Book of Dave," you can come to our Web site, npr.org. And tip well.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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