Wrestliana: a disarmingly honest memoir of literary disappointment – and Cumberland wrestling

Traditional English wrestling

Brain and brawn combine in Toby Litt’s book about his wrestling champion ancestor.

Toby Litt’s great-great-great grandfather, William Litt, was a champion wrestler and a published author. Ever since Litt became a writer, publishing his first book in 1996, his father has wanted him to write William’s story. Instead, he has written just about everything but.

The 12 novels and short-story collections Litt has published to date range in style from pastiches of the Beats (Beatniks) and chick lit (Finding Myself), to psychological thrillers (Corpsing), science fiction (Journey into Space) and horror (Hospital). All his work, to some degree, operates within a metafictional framework, sometimes an elaborate one – he described Finding Myself, for example, as “a novel in kit form” – which reviewers have described variously as “dazzling”, “playfully arch”, “prankish” and “frustrating”.

Wrestliana, by contrast, beyond the intertextual flourish of sharing its title with one of great-great-great grandfather William’s books, is a disarmingly honest and at times extremely powerful work of memoir (although as a bit of reviewer’s insurance I should note the possibility, given Litt’s past form, that Wrestliana is in fact an ingenious fiction; in which case the book would be even more praiseworthy than it already is, albeit in a completely different way).

Litt begins investigating William’s life alongside his dad and some distant Cumbrian relatives. We see some Sebaldian photographs of Litt and his father, from 2009, standing beside a street sign bearing their name in Cleator Moor. At this early stage Litt conceives of the book as a historical novel but is daunted by the task (an interlude in the book that fictionalises William’s experience as a smuggler suggest his misgivings were spot on). It is only after the death of Litt’s mother in 2012, and the sense it inevitably gives him that time …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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