Sunday, 9 January 2011
Toby Litt writes his books alphabetically. Maybe you've heard about that. His first book began with A (Adventures in Capitalism), and his most recent with K (King Death). Not only will this look excellent on my bookshelves, but it's pretty brave. If he gives up before Z, or breaks the pattern, everyone will know. He will have failed. He will have gone Sufjan on us.
I didn't know about the alphabetic nature of his canon when I first bought I play the drums in a band called okay. I didn't cotton on when I got his next most recent book at the time, Journey Into Space. I found out just before borrowing Hopsital, but it's too late to change now. I'm going backwards.
Hospital is brilliant. It is a force of nature. It is epic in scope, minute in timeline, absurd, ridiculous, hilarious, and many other adjectives. It manages the tricky job of not taking itself too seriously but still providing an oversized cast of characters you genuinely care about.
Hang on, I was talking about adjectives. Let's try vivid. The giant trees crashing down through the building (see cover) are pretty awesome, but I was most taken with another image. It's hard to explain without giving away too much of the premise of the book, but I'll try.
Nurse Gemma Swallow, our heroine, is trapped in a room. She is trapped because bodies all around her are growing to thewir full human size, and the room isn't big enough to hold them all. A quite horrid suffocation-in-flesh is on the cards. But up steps von Sinistre, our pathological friend, with his bone saw. he cuts a tunnel through the mass of expanding bodies, cutting off their legs quicker (just about) than they grow back, and eventually our heroine can crawl out. This makes complete sense in the context of Hospital.
I have one minor issue with this book, that I only mention because Margaret Atwood did the same thing with The Handmaid's Tale which I read the other week.
It ends brilliantly. But then, there's an extra bit. Litt puts a 'fairy tale' in, which is vaguely relevant to the main plot, but completely, utterly unnecessary. And after the whizzing prose that comes before it, pretty boring to read. Atwood ends her novel brilliantly, but then puts a future-lecture about historical context, which is equally unnecessary, mood-killing, and less than entertaining compared to the novel itself. Why don't these authors know when to stop?