The Great British tradition of the experimental novel is in rude health. Whilst in the public arena the drawing room drama might prevail, a number of ...

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 3 minutes
Published 08 Aug 2007
The Great British tradition of the experimental novel is in rude health. Whilst in the public arena the drawing room drama might prevail, a number of authors are taking new and exciting risks with the form. Boldly committed to promoting such outsider figures, this year’s festival is brimming with names worth uncovering.

A shining example is Toby Litt, great white hope of the odd lit. scene. Litt is an eccentric of the premium variety, an author whose work skirts from genre to genre as often as you or I change socks. His novels have been steadily working their way through the alphabet, from his debut, Adventures in Capitalism, through to his latest, Hospital, with each work a significant departure from the last. Litt has dabbled with realism in the past but his most recent book – even at it’s most restrained - offers a fond adieu to reality. Subtitled ‘a dream-vision’, this is as odd a book as one could hope to read, a narrative flooded with flashes of horror, metaphor and balls-out oddity; Soap opera love affairs commingle with satanic rituals; plants flourish in human bellies; hideous, rubberised nurses stalk abandoned wards and corridors.

Jane Austen this is not.

Litt has said that he wanted the book to have the ‘quality of phantasmagoria’. It certainly does. Though odd to a near-intolerable degree, there is a sense that the author is sifting through a swathe of personal subconscious matter. As Stephen Hall, an associate and protégé of his has said, ‘there are ways to explore human drama without sticking to the kitchen sink’. Needless to say, Litt seldom dwells on plumbing.

Stephen Hall will also be in town to discuss his debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts. A deeply unconventional work, it introduces such meta-fictional conceits as unspace, ‘conceptual creatures’ and characters with names like Mr. Nobody. At heart a standard thriller (the final showdown with the titular shark could be taken straight from a Peter Benchley novel – that is, if Benchley were spliced with Baudrillard) it nonetheless indulges in all sorts of experimental goofing, including Tristram Shandy-esque games with page design and layout. Hollywood interest has been much recorded – Nicole Kidman reportedly begged Hall to alter the sex of his protagonist so that she might play the lead in a film adaptation. Hall’s cachet should continue to rise.

Scarlett Thomas, described by the ever dependable Bookslut as the ‘best author you may not have heard of’, will be plugging her latest work, The End of Mr Y., an ambitious novel of ideas in which a cursed book leads to adventures and cosmic revelations. Thomas inhabits a similar space to Hall: in her hands a pacy, literate thriller much in the vein of Eco or Calvino, is the vessel for ideas and concepts of rare intelligence.

Elsewhere, more established figures will be plying their odd wares; Margaret Atwood, a towering figure who has been know to bleed conventional narratives with a strain of science fiction, will be making an appearance. Likewise, Will Self will be discussing his latest work, The Book Of Dave, a profoundly ambitious work in which the deranged ramblings of a London cab driver become sacred text in a flooded future.
With such a broad scope of strange imaginations on display, one can feel nothing but optimism for the future of the British literary landscape.