It looks like it is going to be quite a Christmas for Richard Hermes, a Christmas powdered with cocaine and whining with the white noise of urban derangement. Not so much enfolded, as trapped in the bosom of the nastiest, most venal media clique in London, Richard is losing it on all fronts.
The once-disquieting, ever-dependably crude Self seems content for the moment to chum out hackneyed, no-brainer fiction, judging by his last story collection (Tough. Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys, 1999, etc.) as well as this novella - the sophomoric study or a journalist seduced by the dark side of the media biz, copiously illustrated by Martin Rowson. Innocent Richard has come from an up-country newspaper to the glitz of a trendy London magazine. Too easily he finds his way to the Sealink Club, the watering hole for gossip columnists and other hacks like himself, and its inner circle, presided over by the all-powerful Bell, a superhack boasting a syndicated column, a TV show, and a radio talk program. Bell's all-flavors appetite for sex and all-night binges are legendary. Meanwhile, Richard has his eye on lovely Ursula, one of Bell's favorites, and does his best to make her notice him while keeping up the torrid pace of nightly debauchery that takes the group from the Sealink to opium dens and beyond. He finally persuades her to have lunch, and they establish a more normal relationship by day - even though she continues to ignore him by night. At the same time, the strain of his life in the fast lane takes a toll on Richard's job performance, and on his sanity, as he begins to see Bell's jaw-jutting visage everywhere, on billboards and on the faces of his fellow carousers. When at last Richard succeeds in arranging a night with Ursula alone, what starts as the fulfillment of his wildest dreams turns into a wit's-ending nightmare. Not much more than a piffle, although, to be fair, the story dies continue to develop themes handled masterfully in Self's earlier work. (Kirkus Reviews)