With his novels Corpsing and Beatniks, young Brit Lit gunslinger Toby Litt showed he had mastered the essentials of the trendy bestseller. With this poignant, odd, confusing, moving, heartfelt, troubling book he's tried to do an even trickier thing: extend his range and readership upmarket.
The tenor of deadkidsongs is Just William meets Lord of the Flies with a nod to the latter-day works of Nick Hornby, which gives you some idea of what a different-but interesting-book it is. The story concerns four pre-pubescent boys, all members of a gang called Gang, growing up in darkest Devon in the 70s. Against a background of Cold War rumours and Last War memories they play their conkers and cowboys an' injuns, their war and show-us-yer-willy games. Then their clumsy and wistfully innocent Arcadia is overturned when one of them dies; from there the narrative unravels until the reader is not sure who is telling what to whom, nor quite how reliable the teller might be.
To recapture a lost childhood is ambitious enough; Litt's aim is to do that and then some: he wants to say profound things about masculinity, nostalgia, violence and nationhood. Whether he succeeds or not is moot; anyone sincerely interested in the modern British novel will want to read this to decide for themselves. --Sean Thomas