by Steve Penn
[ bookreviews ]
Now here we have value for money. I've always been a bit of a Scrooge at heart, and in essence Iain Sinclair is the penny-pincher's perfect author. Not only is this a mighty book in terms of bulk (my satchel-shoulder has been suffering of late) but it also includes a broad scope, a range of humanity, dense prose and a couple of thousand tons of Tarmac.
Why walk around the M25? As Gimpo, one of Sinclair's stranger acquaintances puts it, "to see where it leads". For it leads an awfully long way indeed. This book is a masterpiece of cross-referenced narrative, sucking in all manner of people and institutions on the trip (planned to end at the Dome on its opening night). The reader encounters the tales of the edges of the city, particularly including the "asylum belt" that sprang up around London to house undesirables in the 19th Century. There are arty stories, literary bits, funny bits, all woven into a story that seems as arbitrary as the decision to walk around the motorway in the first place. This is the Lockean network of the mind in written form. It resembles a very well written report of the kind of rambling conversations an author like Sinclair would have with people like Bill 'KLF' Drummond. And anyone who knows Ken Campbell is cool in my (far smaller) book.
It has been said, not least by me, that the audience of the average soap opera is watching to buy into a community that does not exist in his or her world. If you read this book, you can do roughly the same thing for the literary circle of eccentrics with time and money and the ability to get up early without a job. It is a very good life to become involved with. It will take you some time to read, if you really want to get the most out of the dense, systematic yet crafted prose. A literary conservatism rules this book, with the events stated in brief, effective bolts of language. Waste is a flaw throughout the landscape Sinclair sees, and he refuses to let it into his book. There is so much here that the book, like the motorway, can barely contain it. If, like me, you know your way around the areas the M25 sweeps through, this book is an absolute must-have. Those of you who are un/lucky enough to live further from the slick of Tarmac surrounding London will still enjoy it, but will lack the unconscious tendency to sagely nod the head when you remember just how miserable that café in Staines is, or how many dragonflies haunt the Royal Gunpowder Mills.
You'll still love the book though, but Dome aficionados might like to overlook a few passages, as Sinclair does not like the Teflon tent much (and is very funny about it). This book represents many long hours of enjoyment for a surprisingly low cost. It's a great deal between two hard covers.