Friday, 14 January 2011
One thing I like about Mr Litt, and I touched on it in my review of Hospital, is his ambition. deadkidsongs is certainly ambitious.
It is written, for the most part, in the collective 1st person. As the 'we' in question is four English boys, called Gang, that turns out to be singular 3rd person for the most part. When Gang does something, it is 'we,' but whenever a member of Gang does something, it is he.
deadkidsongs tries to be a lot of different books, but the one it succeeds at most is that of the tale of the collective 1st person, of Gang. When its membership is altered, the balance disappears, and trouble gets spilt everywhere. That is the central strength of the novel.
But the book is also succesful in other ways. It's an excellent portrayal of childhood, or rather more exclusively, of boyhood. Animalistic politics, strength and the ethics of respect are everywhere. Boys aren't nice. Not by nature.
Or maybe it's a book about fatherhood, and parental responsibility. The Best Father and Worst Father are extreme examples of where the boys are heading, either if they remain loyal to their boisterousness, or if they betray it. (Betraying it, in this sense, seeming the far better option.)
In any one of these ways, deadkidsongs is a success. But that's the problem. Litt doesn't pick one to follow through with. It's a strange flaw to have, being good in too many different ways. The different books, instead of intertwining and uniting, get in each other's way, and confuse each other. They're like four boys trying to squeeze through one doorway. Gang could get through, because Gang is a unit. But not four individual boys, each wanting to be first.