Hospital by Toby Litt

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Hospital by Toby Litt

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Buy Hospital by Toby Litt at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Very funny, completely up itself and probably far too long, Hospital isn't for those of a nervous disposition or who like their stories told straight. Otherwise, suck it up and enjoy!
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton Ltd
ISBN: 978-0241142806

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I dreamed about Steve Coogan making a film of an unfilmable Toby Litt book called Hospital. I really, really did. Hospital is um... Green Wing meets The Draughtsman's Contract meets The Towering Inferno meets Rosemary's Baby meets Owl's Creek Bridge. It's also probably a couple of hundred pages too long - hence, I imagine, my associating it with Tristram Shandy whilst asleep. And really, that should tell you all you need to know, which should also neatly get me out of the slight fix of having to review it. Because Hospital is one of those books where the reviewers come off either as being a miserable Victor Meldrew type or as a desperate-to-be-cool adolescent who can find more abstruse meanings (probably unintended by the author) than all the other desperate-to-be-cool adolescents added together. Plus one.

But whoever said life was easy?

Hospital has a lot of things going on. The whole thing is set in, well, a hospital. And the hospital is going to hell in a handcart. One plot strand follows Nurse Swallow and Dr Steele and is a Mills & Boon skit. Another parodies schlocky-porny-horror as it follows Sir Reginald Saint-Hellier, the A&E consultant, and his band of medical Satanists, who sacrifice a new born baby and earn themselves, and almost everyone else in the building, eternal life. And another follows a young boy who is the freed consciousness of one of the hospital's coma patients and who has an apple tree growing out of his abdomen. He must make it from the top of the building to the bottom and out so that he can find his mother. Erm... and that's not by any means all. There's also a Rubber Nurse doing off-page bondage sessions, a bunch of voodoo-practising porters and a killer fog. Oh, and a fire. And more... and more... and more...

It's hellish, it's maniacal and lots of it is very funny. I particularly enjoyed the Mills & Boon stuff as the demure Nurse Gemma Swallow and the reserved-but-passionate Dr Steele burn with desires and misunderstandings before eventually getting it on. The Satanists and their orgiastics were hilarious. Sir Reginald is a really gross old goat. I was dutifully hankering for more of the unexplained Rubber Nurse, as I think I was supposed to. And because I'm a big ol' girly girl at heart, I was really rooting for the boy or coma-apparition, or whatever he was, to get out of Hospital and to his mother, as the people around him careered around disastrously, bereft of any moral consequence thanks to Sir Reg and the sacrificed baby.

But I did flag. I know Hospital is supposed to be this long, I know it's supposed to have this many characters, I know it's supposed to be undisciplined - you can't remove moral frameworks and expect discipline, can you? Can you? - but I'm not as young as I used to be and I'm a bit of a thickie. It's five hundred pages of mania, allusion and mayhem, and I flagged. I would have enjoyed Hospital-Lite more than I enjoyed the full length version. Having said that, Hospital did get under my skin. I laughed lots (favourite pun: severed limbs re-membering as they reattach themselves to newly immortal bodies) and I loved the apocalyptic vision. And the final pages, amazingly, made me feel good. I thought they were a triumph.

Please don't call the next one Ipecac, Mr Litt!

My thanks to Hamish Hamilton for sending the book.

Those who like the idea of the skits in Hospital but prefer a nice, easy, straight read might enjoy Will Ferguson poking fun at the self-help industry in Happiness while those who are interested in what becomes of people without the safety of a moral framework might like J G Ballard's Empire of the Sun. Everybody else should just read Hospital twice instead!

Buy Hospital by Toby Litt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hospital by Toby Litt at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Hospital by Toby Litt at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Hospital by Toby Litt at Amazon.com.

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John said:

A press review of this I read seemed to suggest it had some of the anti-writing that Stewart Home's Memphis Underground had - deliberately bad, lengthy patches. I suspect you did well to enjoy this that much.

Jill replied:

No anti-writing at all, but some of the pastiche is so close to what it parodies it's barely pastiche at all. Um... a bit like The Office? It definitely isn't unreadable.