Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Things I like and dislike about Litt

Things I like and dislike about Toby Litt:
Likes... his short stories; his appropriate name; his spare, but imaginative prose style, his Englishness (he takes archetypes and brings them home),
Dislikes... his novels, that spare style when it goes all new puritan, his Englishness (he makes archetypes little and parochial), that his book titles are alphabetical.

Actually, I'm joking a bit, because I like Toby Litt but only seem to come back to him when he has some short stories out. But the book title thing did annoy me a bit, okay, its a nice OuLiPo like conceit, but it kind of plays fast and loose with something that's a bit close to my heart, that a book finds its own title in the writing of it. Anyway, I'm reading and enjoying his addition to the rock and roll fiction genre "I play the drums in a band called okay"; and it highlights all of the above really. I've always enjoyed these stories when they've come up in anthologies, and packaging them together this way, with a discography of the band, and some kind of chronological order, is the kind of thing I like in an author. Yet, there's also something very English (or now I come to think about it: Canadian) about his choice of band. For "okay" are a Canadian emo band. It's that littleing down of things (a bit like Beatniks was "On the Road" for Gap year students or something) that I'm talking about. Rock and roll doesn't get much less interesting than a Canadian emo band. And of course, its the fucking drummer writing it! (Even worse). But that's because its not a book about rock and roll at all, but about love, about failure, about maleness, about success, about a group of mates. I'd like to think that in this postmodern world there will be a band formed called okay, featuring 4 guys called Crab, Mono, Syph and Clap (yeah, I know!) who will set themselves the task of writing and recording okay's discography just as it says in the back of the book. And it would be crap, as only a Canadian emo band can be. Books about music can either take the fall from grace of a megastar (see Espedair Street) or something little (the Commitments), and I guess - a bit like the Cameron Crowe movie Almost Famous - Litt has gone for a middle ground, a band believably second tier, so with the potential to be Spinal Tap, but without inevitably settling into that absurdity. I reckon, pace Simon Armitage, most writers wish they could have been rockstars. Perhaps its a failure of imaginative nerve, when they invent one only to be the drummer in okay, but then anyone will tell you, a good drummer's worth his weight in gold. This isn't as good as Motley Crue's "The Dirt" of course, but then what Canadian emo band could be?

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