Saturday, 14 February 2009

Book Review: Lights Out Fot The Territory by Iain Sinclair

London is the subject of Iain Sinclair's psychogeographic travelogue; more specifically his seemingly random but inner directed rambles with the photographer Mark Atkins through selected terrains: East London, The City and Lambeth's riverside, amongst other locations more loosely referenced in the text. To call Lights Out for the Territory a personal and idiosyncratic account of Britain's capital city is not fully grasping its flavour; there is nothing objective or distanced about it. The writing style is unique to the author; poetical (sometimes obscure) and bitingly cynical (but also very funny.) His scorn is directed at those who have reduced the city to a heritage theme park and security zone, but walking his meandering road he finds time to champion the city's outsider artists, filmmakers. poets and writers; the artistic 'reforgotten' of London.

I have to confess experimental writing does not appeal. Stream of consciousness and Burroughsian cut-ups leave me cold; I love narrative structures (but not necessarily conventional ones), also strongly descriptive and visual writing; concrete worlds to get lost in, challenging in content rather then stylistics. This is probably why I've never attempted Iain Sinclair's novels or poems, but his non-fiction although not straight forward (as in Peter Ackroyd's historical accounts), gives access to a hidden London.

You can't help but admire Sinclair's writing talent. It's deliberately obscure a lot of the time and the scattering of little known names throughout without explanation can be irritating. But the dazzling prose carries you on through many interesting diversions: Graffiti as the city's unconscious language; Surveillance systems (CCTV, etc) being the city's own film of itself; occult conspiracies' of the Establishment; the anarchist and provocateur, Stewart Home; the relationship of the pit-ball to Hackney and environs; The Kray Twins in the East End; Jeffrey Archer in his penthouse overlooking the Thames; the visionary significance of Kings Cross; the park in Charlton where Antonioni filmed Blow-Up-and so on.

Strictly for Londoners, 'reforgotten poets' or those who love the art of a great prose stylist.

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