Bright lights, British cities

Lucy O'Brien laps up a savvy study in conspicuous consumption

Adventures in Capitalism by Toby Litt, Secker & Warburg, pounds 12.99

Why is it Generation X-ers always buy take-out pizzas? The first thing e-mail freak Betamax Boy does when he discovers a box full of old Beta tapes at a car boot sale is go home and order a pepperoni with extra anchovies, pineapple, onions and corn. This is before he slots in a video and discovers "'60s-time warp" conspiracy theorist Kenneth waxing lyrical to camera.

Betamax Boy is one of a cast of characters - media victims of the electronic age - who pepper late-twentysomething Toby Litt's debut, Adventures in Capitalism. He has been compared to Douglas Coupland, McInerney et al, but aside from Americanisms like "way cool", "schmuck" and "chow down", Bedfordshire-born Litt has less in common with his US counterparts than you'd expect. As with American rap, the British version doesn't translate well - references to the NFT and the British Library somehow don't sound as sexy as Coupland's sun and snakeskin in the California desert.

In this anthology of 18 scathing short stories, there are the obligatory jabs at consumer culture - "It Could Have Been Me And It Was", for instance, italicises all the purchases of an I-shop-therefore-I-am lottery winner, while "IYouHeSheItWeYouThey" skits the dumb and beautiful Hello!-type celebrity couple in a way that's savage but groaningly obvious. A story set in London's Japanese fast-food eaterie, Wagamama, details the lives of flippant media characters whom you may recognise but couldn't care less about, and "Cosmetic" delves into the psyche of an odious business tycoon who reconstructs his cheekbones. These tales are as dry as the arid culture they depict.

When Litt drops his self-conscious commentary on the late 20th-century MTV generation, however, he comes up with stories that resonate. With a fine ear for the absurd, he creates a host of unreliable narrators, from the unstable and ironic to the mad, obsessed and surreal. Some of them are just good ideas in search of a story, like the High Anglican loner who writes letters to Mr Exceedingly- Good-Cakes Kipling, or the Face reader who turns into a sunflower and is paraded like an Elephant Man freak show, or the Boots model girl who joins the SWP.

Far more effective are the quieter tales with a grim undertow. There's a rum, poignant, devastating humour to "Fluffy Pink Bunny Rabbit", for instance, in which an out-of-work actor dresses up to shake charity tins in Trafalgar Square. And "Polly" draws, in closely focused yet simple detail, the world of a young black nurse overly attached to horoscopes and an abandoned baby brought into the hospital ward. Even more compelling is "Launderama", a horror story about a true ghost in the machine. The narrator, a writer of technical manuals and erotic novels, becomes obsessed with a beautiful girl who keeps getting in and out of washing machines in the launderette opposite his house. Even though he has his own Zanussi, he takes a bag of clothes over one day in order to intercept her. By accident he walks right through her and, rather than a terrible chill passing through him, "inside her, where I for a brief second was, everything was hot and close and dense and churning" - just like a washing machine.

Litt then reserves his coup de grace for the final act - the wicked, revengeful "When I Met Michel Foucault". Though he is dealing with a post- modern icon, it's with none of the clever-clever edge that dominates so many of his stories. Here he literally gets under the French philosopher's skin, with a red-hot poker in an S&M club. It is a brilliant, charged, thoughtful piece of writing that goes deeper than all the supposed subversion of Coupland's alienated American universe. When he moves away from two- dimensional characters that merely echo the vacuity of our take-out culture, Litt forges a truly satirical comment on consumerism and capitalist gods.

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project