Friday 29 January 2016

Review - Mutants by Toby Litt

Mutants: Selected Essays by Toby Litt

Mutants is a collection of essays from accomplished novelist and creative writing lecturer Toby Litt. Full disclosure - I received my copy in return for a review here. I'll leave it to you to imagine how daunting it is to write a review/essay on someone so erudite and talented knowing that they will read it! Also knowing that I'm a fan and that [Deadkidsongs] is one of my favourite books should tell you that although this is an honest review, the expectation is that I would enjoy the book (spoiler alert - I did!)

The book is split into two halves - "What I think" and "Why I think it" and includes the text of several of Litt's summer lectures on creative writing. Litt teaches at Birkbeck which is one of the top Creative Writing courses on Unistats. And, judging by these lectures, you can see why. Being a writer, aspiring to be published, as I am they really hit the spot for me - but you don't have to be a writer to get something from them, for example you'll get an insight as to why some authors have the swing and others don't.

However these lectures, including one on how jazz can teach you about writing (hence the swing comment above), come after a series of essays on writers as varied as Tolstoy and Spark. It's obvious that Litt is well-read and reads well. These are insightful, and often entertaining essays. I especially liked the one on Muriel Spark, a writer I admire. The description of headfuck literature in an essay entitled - Headfuck fiction versus Carlos LabbĂ© really chimed with me too, especially since I read Navidad Y Matanza in 2014.

The "what I think" section then is full of confident opinion pieces, but what of "why I think it?" Well here we get some insights into reading, on perversity, on monsters, on ghost stories and why historical fiction is problematic. These essays are just as insightful as the first half's. For example the essay on Sebald clarified what it is that I've been struggling to express about the writer since reading The rings of Saturn and The Emigrants.

I also enjoyed the essay on Hogarth and London, having attended the same exhibition that sparked the essay and the insight it gave into Litt's own novels -  especially Hospital another of his books I'd recommend.

If there were any criticism it would be that some of the information contained in what are clearly originally standalone essays is repeated in others that were not originally meant to be read together. But there are only a couple of examples of this, and it didn't mar my enjoyment of the collection.

Overall - This is a collection you should read if you are interested in literature, in reading it or writing it and/or you're a fan of Litt's fiction.

Highly Recommended.

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