Deadkidsongs is a novel by Toby Litt, published by Penguin. Deadkidsongs also has been published in Croatia as "Pjesme Mrtvih Klinaca", in the Netherlands as "Dodenzang" and in France as "Gang".
Deadkidssongs tells the extremely strange and interesting story of four young boys, collectively known as "Gang" growing up in a small town called Amplewick in Britain, during the 1970's.
The story starts of fairly innocently. The four boys are obsessed with the waging of war, and throughout the book the theme of war controls their actions. Gang spends their time training, preparing for a war with the Russians, practicing espionage, Morse code and counter interrogation techniques. In the end, the training pays off, but not against the Russians.
The four boys form what they refer to as Gang
. Gang is a secret association
(consisting of the four boys, and the Major General
, Andrew's father (also known as "the Best Father") that regards women and parents (excluding the Major General who is secretly the leader of the gang) as weak and useless. Gang further believes that war is coming soon, and preparations need to be made.
Spoilers Definitely Follow!
- Andrew - Leader of Gang. Arrogant and violent, merciless killer of small and larger animals, has psychopathic and schizophrenic tendencies.
- Matthew -Orphaned child who lives with his grandparents and sister, a great friend and doomed from the start.
- Paul - Cursed with the worst father, desires to usurp leadership of Gang.
- Peter - Official keeper of Gang's records, geek, archiver, coward.
- The Major General - Andrew's father, wife beater, child abuser, secret leader of Gang.
- The Dinosaurs - Matthews Grandparents, subjects of operation extinction.
Throughout the first few chapters of the book, the evilness of these four boys is hinted at. When Peter’s father forces peter to stay home, and disallows contact with the other members of Gang for a few weeks, Gang formulates “operation badger”. Operation badger is essentially the plan formulated by Gang to ruin Peter’s fathers precious vegetable garden, and kill his cat in a horrific way.
However, no matter how horrible one might think the boys are at that point, one only realises during the second half of the book the full impact of the war gaming that goes on between them continuously.
The basic plot of the book comes to the fore when Matthew dies as a result of (what I believe to be) meningitis. Gang believes that his grandparents caused his death (through their lack of haste in taking him to hospital) and formulate "Operation Extinction" the plan to kill The Dinosaurs (Matthew’s Grandparents). The plan is to make life so difficult for the dinosaurs that they will be slowly weakened and eventually (when they cannot cope anymore) die off. This is accomplished by changing the fuses in their fuse box, loosening the hallway carpets, throwing away small portions of their medicines, killing their pets and other horrific subterfuge.
Although the book suffers from a slow start, from here on the book is absolutely gripping, and extremely haunting. The maliciousness of Andrew develops (and the reader is informed of the terrible things he has done in the past), and he develops schizophrenic symptoms, having dreams where Matthew tells him what to do. Gang goes through a power struggle, with Paul attempting to take over leadership from Andrew. This further fuels Andrews violent nature and has far reaching consequences.
Deadkidsongs is a book that captures the concept of childhood brutality and desire for danger perfectly. It has been favourably compared to Lord of the Flies (William Golding), and although the similarity is merely academic, it rings true. Both Golding and Litt demonstrate the sinister side of childhood personality with absolute clarity.
Objectively, the book is well written, is interesting throughout and Toby Litt has a unique style. Litt's creates unique voices for each boy, and the book shifts interestingly between the First and Third person.
Subjectively, Deadkidsongs is one of the best books I have ever read. It is gripping, terrifying and thought provoking. The characters are whole, the story unputdownable, and the violence bloodcurdling. I wholeheartedly recommend it!
- Reading the book.