The cock's on the housetop, blowing his horn;
The bull's in the barn a-threshing of corn;
The maids in the meadow are making of hay;
The ducks in the river are swimming away.
A Cock and Bull Story, The Real Mother Goose
Cock and Bull is a book containing two novellas; Cock: A Novelette and Bull: A Farce, by the British writer Will Self.
Both works are fantastical explorations of the bizarre. Cock is about an unhappily married woman who grows a penis, while Bull features a rugby player with a mysterious wound on the back of his knee, which turns out to be a vagina.
Carol, the heroine of Cock, starts as a typically bored housewife who turns to masturbation to relieve the tedium of an unfulfilling homelife and an alcoholic husband. As her penis develops, her personality alters, becoming more forceful and aggressive, leading a denouement in which she rapes and kills her husband and escapes her life. Carol's tale is related by a narrator who tells how the story was told to him when trapped alone in a train carriage by a sinister Oxford don.
This double distancing from the story gives Self the chance to have fun, anticipating the reader's mind and allowing himself to get away with some over-the-top wordplay and trivial asides about philosophers and Henry James. Not for the squeamish.
The typically English John Bull features in the second story. Bull is a sports writer and prop-forward and an unconscious representation of all things masculine. On discovery of his strange wound, he pays a visit to his doctor, who instantly realises what the gaping gash on the Bull's leg really is. This doctor - vain, ambitious, grotesque - becomes obsessed by Bull, and embarks on a study that turns into seduction. Bull, fearful and frightened about what is happening to his body, is compliant with the doctor and becomes dependent upon him.
Bull is primarily concerned with the psychological changes in John, but still gives time to feature a one-joke stand-up lauded by the listing press as the next big thing, and a long preamble of the significance of all the many openings and alleyways in London. The conclusion to the story is a both more upbeat and more absurd then in Cock, with John and his doctor's relationship leading to its natural conclusion.
The two stories, although at times displaying their literary ambitions a tad too blatantly, are both very funny and are a good introduction to Self's work.