Simon Dykes is a successful artist about to open another big show of his work in London. A week before the opening, he goes out to a bar with his colleagues, indulges in drugs, has sex with his girlfriend, and falls into an uncomfortable sleep with bizarre dreams. He wakes up in a world where every person is a chimpanzee and where humans are kept in zoos or are experimented on in labs, and the few humans surviving in the wild are close to extinction.

Terrified and dismayed, he is taken to a psychiatric ward where the chimpanzee doctors try to help him overcome his "delusions" that he is actually a human. They eventually turn to Dr. Zack Busner, an alpha male, theoretical renegade and media star, as well as a maverick drug researcher, "anti-psychiatrist," psychoanalyst, and clinical psychologist. Together they try to understand the root of Simon's delusion and return Simon to his sanity and "chimpunity."


From Aesop to Swift and Orwell, authors have made use of the animal/human inversion to satirize aspects of human behavior. Self places chimpanzees in what we would recognize as a human environment while insistently and convincingly retaining their chimpness (their grooming, sexuality, "horripilating" and scut-following). It is an impressive act of literary commitment with moments of great comedy, especially in the blazing satire of the hierarchies in the medical, academic and, artistic worlds. Self's satirical brilliance is to show how the hostility, dominance, and subservience of these worlds can be easily translated into the lingo of chimp social orders.

The novel questions pat ideas about sanity and delusions, providing an interesting and often amusing perspective on mental illness, psychiatry and psychology, but this does not seem to be the main focus of Self's satire. Rather, this novel is a delightful critique of the scientific and anthropologic processes in general, where the world is explained in ways that seem "obvious" but are also deeply counter-intuitive and fantastical when re-examined from another (chimp) perspective.



Place Published

New York



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