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Hospital by Toby Litt

Hospital (2007)

by Toby Litt

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There is no way I can out do the blurb and so:
Hospital is about blue murder and saving lives, having sex and surgery, falling in love and falling from a great height, crazy voodoo and hypnotic surveillance – it’s about the last days and the first days. And the Rubber Nurse knows you’ve been very naughty and is going to teach you a well-deserved lesson. It’s the story of a lost boy wandering the corridors of a strange, antiseptic building, looking and hoping for a chance to get home. And also of a man who won’t wake up despite the best efforts of the hospital staff – and while he sleeps, a threatening darkness settles over everything...

If that sounds like your thing jump right in! Really do you need to know more?

Well if you do be comforted(?) that it’s not a deranged surrealist mess but a brilliant, gripping tale with a fight of good Vs evil, a closed, out of control immortality and set in a "soap opera" hospital. There are some beautiful stereotypes here; the handsome surgeon and love forlorn nurse, the evil and ego driven head Satanist, the naughty and erotic nurse all twisted into the tale. Amusing and horrific in turns it’s a delightfully imaginative and gripping tale not just because you want to see how the idea(s) grow but because it’s very well paced and very carefully plotted (although getting an answer out of the end up is up to you).

Anyone who loves the fantastical and are not overly squeamish (it has been called gorgeously grotesque by one reviewer) you should really check this out. It’s rare a book that leaps to this level of imagination, it’s very rare that book is this amusing too. I highly recommend it and huge kudos go to Anders who put this on my radar. ( )
5 vote clfisha | Mar 13, 2012 |
Oh thank god, a book I didn't like. I was beginning to think I was just liking everything, and that's never good.

To be fair, the main reason I didn't like Hospital, by Toby Litt, is that by the end I still didn't have the faintest idea what it was on about, what the point was, or even if there was meant to be one.

Hospital starts off as a generic medical thriller...as the trauma copter lands on the roof with the latest victims, Gemma Swallow, the new Emergency nurse, pines for Dr John Steel, the dashing young trauma surgeon, all working under the calm, efficient rule of Sir Reginald, the eminent consultant to make people better, goddammit. Cliche piles on cliche in the opening few chapters, as Litt creates Hospital (it never receives any other name), a mighty organisation that flows from Sir Reginald down.

Now, Litt's not a bad writer, and I've enjoyed a good deal of what he's done before. All of his books fly off in different directions - previous novels have dealt with chick-lit, ghost stories, hard boiled thrillers, kids stories - so I was expecting this to somehow become sort of eloquent parody of the medical thriller.

At about the one-third mark though, it all becomes slightly more surreal than that. A small boy arrives, almost unseen on a helicopter, and wants nothing more to escape Hospital and get home to his mother, who he thinks will be able to deal with the apple tree growing from his stomach; the Rubber Nurse, a rubber-clad dominatrix strides the corridors; the porters turn out to be Voodoo priests, sacrificing chickens in the basement; half the cast are actually Satanists, and on the stroke of midnight, conclude a Black Mass with the sacrifice of a newborn, in a quest to achieve immortality. Something odd certainly happens, because with that, the whole Hospital is engulfed in a strange mist, isolating it from the rest of the world, and inside, everyone becomes immortal - and more than that, the dead arise...from the recently deceased in the mortuary, to entire new bodies being constructed from the anatomical scraps in the museum, and live cows being regurgitated from the beefburgers people had for dinner.

The book hops rapidly from scene to scene, as Hospital becomes increasingly chaotic and Apocalyptic...huge mounds of flesh plummet from the ceiling to the basement as fire rages up the building, and the recently dead, the recently rejuvenated and the truly evil rampage through the building. At the heart of it there is a single dying man, an unnamed trauma victim in the ICU who becomes to be seen as a Messiah figure, dying so everyone else may live, and whose fate seems somehow bound up in that of the small boy with the apple tree growing from his stomach.

The plot is loose and unformed, and while there sounds as if there might be some potential in all of this, too often it is wrapped in turgid, overly stultified prose that suffocates any satire struggling to get out. The book is too long, and would have benefitted from a decent pruning of its excesses, and in the end, there is no real end.

The subtitle of the book is A Dream Vision and there is the horrible possibility that this is in fact meant to be Litt's take on that curious subgenre, coma fiction, of which Iain Banks The Bridge is still far and away my favourite example. It may be that there's some other point to all of this that I'm simply missing, but I'll be damned if I can see it.

Every now and then, Litt's talent does shine through...there are a few funny scenes, and the occasional flash of control of language and expression that suggests there may be something more to this - there are moments where the narrative almost, but not quite, jumps to some sort of Ballardian allegory - but it slips back into simple cliche far more than is tolerable. While occasionally there is a surge of energy that threatens to wash you along with it, it usually founders quickly again into dull prose. In the end, I only went to the end because I was sure there had to be something that would make sense of it all. Sadly, no. ( )
  MikeFarquhar | May 27, 2007 |
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Sex, death, drugs, Satanism, voodoo - when things start to go wrong at hospital, who knows where it will end? This is a journey to hell and back.

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