Degree show

Fiction: ADVENTURES IN CAPITALISM by Toby Litt, Secker pounds 12.99
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The Independent Culture
Toby Litt's short stories have been packaged as if they were all about ultra-hip twentysomethings and their shopping habits. Sure, there are plenty of knowing nods to e-mail, Bjork albums and Wagamama, but unlike the predictably label-conscious, metropolitan sensibility afflicting so many young (male) writers who have a kind of Oedipal thing with Martin Amis, Toby Litt has a truly satirical sense of fun: forget the sententious- sounding Capitalism of the title, just think Adventures.

Like some mischievous imp with a laptop, Litt pursues his fantastical ideas - the aesthete who wakes up to find that he has a sunflower growing out of his cheek, or the man who wins the Lottery and decides to believe nothing but what adverts tell him - with an exhausting, Tigger-ish energy which pushes them beyond the point of logical consistency. The surreal and the quotidian are continually jostling for position in these stories: where their elbows rub is where Litt's sense of the social absurd makes its subversive humour.

The collection's fragmentary feel, its youthful vigour and willingness to experiment give it an air of being someone's "degree show". In fact, Litt was last year's Curtis Brown Scholar while completing a Creative Writing MA at UEA, and this is his first collection. As a result, Adventures in Capitalism has an almost endearing "Look at me! Look at what I can do!" pushiness about it.

But there's no question about it: Litt is worth a look. With enviable facility, he cuts between unreliable narrators, interior monologues, and fully orchestrated dream sequences - in one notable story, "After Wagamama but Mostly Before", he uses the entire repertoire. Some of the shorter works, though, are simple exercises in ventriloquism, and these are perhaps the least interesting. A staple character begins to emerge: the Sad (or Mad) Old Git, as in "Mr Kipling", concerning a pompous old buffer who believes that there is a real Mr Kipling (who, among other things, makes exceedingly good cakes), or in "Flies II", about a cantankerous codger convinced that his neighbour has killed his own mother. Their idiom is well mimicked - but to what purpose?

The stories which work are those that move beyond mere mannerist notation. One of the best, "Moriarty", uses a similar conceit to "Mr Kipling", being about people who circumvent their humdrum existence by giving it the texture of fiction. The main characters are two girls on the cusp of adolescence, living in a small country village. To alleviate their summer holiday ennui, they make-believe that they are Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson; "Moriarty" is the new boy next door whose nocturnal skinny-dipping makes him dangerous yet alluring, a mysterious and seductive figure just like Conan Doyle's Moriarty. Unlike the man in "Mr Kipling", trapped in his consumer delusion, the girls in "Moriarty" seem about to leave behind their borrowed roles and realise some more significant personal story.

At his best, Toby Litt seems to revive the spirit of Monty Python, mate it with a strain of magic realism, and let it roam about 1990s London. At his second-best he looks like an author in search of a subject. There's no doubt that Adventures in Capitalism marks the arrival of a fresh satirical voice, full of brio. One just hopes he'll settle down to something more serious.

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