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Downriver [Paperback]

Iain Sinclair
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Mar 2002
This book traces the ruins of Thatcher's reign, through the lens of a fictional film crew that has been hired to make a documentary about what's left of the Thames River and the life that was.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 407 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; New edition edition (7 Mar 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862074895
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862074897
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,855,497 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'The Thames runs through Downriver like a great, wet wound. This is a work of conspicuous and glorious ill-humour. Something is happening in this text that makes it necessary to go on. Crazy, dangerous, prophetic' Angela Carter 'One of those idiosyncratic literary texts that revivify the language, so darn quotable as to be the reader's delight and the reviewer's nightmare' Guardian

From the Back Cover

The Thames may still flow through the heart of London, but life along its shores has dramatically changed. In Downriver, Iain Sinclair traces the ruin of Thatcher's reign, through the lens of a fictional film crew that has been hired to make a documentary about what's left of the river life that was.

Downriver is a savage, satirical quest to understand how people's lives, a government's policies, and a legendary waterland conspire together in a boggling display of self-destruction.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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'And what,' Sabella insisted, 'is the opposite of a dog?' Her husband, Henry Milditch, continued to ignore her. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This and Mother London are the best 20 Mar 2001
By A Customer
I read this because I read somewhere (Evening Standard ?) that this and Mother London were the two best novels about London. Together -- and they are very different 'reads' on the city although often linked together -- they do make a monumental picture of a living, richly textured capital. Other writers never seem to get as thoroughly involved with their material as Sinclair and Moorcock who almost seem to think the city IS them. That is, where a writer like Martin Amis will really be writing about himself in some way and his responses to what he sees, Sinclair and Moorcock seem to ABSORB themselves in the city -- accepting it, lock, stock and occasionally smoking barrel -- and celebrating it. That celebratory note is what unites the books. This is not your usual wimp's response to the Terrors and Pitfalls of the Big City. This is I LIKE IT HERE, CRAP AND ALL. The mocking lyricism is another thing which sometimes echoes across both books. These are sophisticated writers, but they are writers of passion and they are both romantic writers in the best, most intelligent sense. Impatient with orthodoxy, suspicious of received ideas, they go and look at everything for themselves and bring us back their reports. You can't ask for better than that. You do get better than that, because you get some glorious writing and wonderful characters. Downriver is constructed as twelve interlocking narratives and has a rather monumental Victorian structure to it. It feels a bit like the Tower of London, too. Mother London in contrast is the Kew Tropical Plant House with shafts of light falling forever unexpectedly on things we hadn't noticed before. Downriver is also full of things we hadn't noticed before and I am now re-reading it because I am discovering more things I hadn't noticed the first time! Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The beginning of the end 8 July 2012
By Geoff
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was the first 'big' book by Iain Sinclair, both in profile and length. There is some wonderful writing dotted about in it: the historic Tilbury and Maze Hill he conjures have a vivid strangeness familiar from his earlier poetry and prose, for example. But by god there's a lot of unfocused misanthropy here too. He hates everything, in the most hackneyed (ha!) terms: in the first 100 pages alone, there are cringe-worthy rants about alternative comedians, his (wonderful) previous books, people who take him to free dinners and give him fun jobs, the government, women who protest against the government, people who write articles criticising the government, people who went to the wrong universities, people who - like him - buy houses cheap in lovely squares recommended by John Betjeman, people who live in East London, people who don't live in East London, people who did live in East London and now don't, you.... I'm sitting there ready to join in but he never persuades me: they're all just bad cause he says so and that's that. He's not good at plot, satire, character, or structure in a work this length, but Downriver is still conventional enough in style (realism punctuated by historical visions) that it isn't really a formal experiment, or a Thomas Bernhard-style dynamic rant either. Beyond that it's difficult to put your finger on what's so "off" about the feel of the thing, considering its promising ingredients. The women who feature in his books tend to be dead and usually prostitutes, that probably doesn't help. And, while he's good at detailing the headspinning property cons going on by the riverside, he doesn't have much political insight beyond them - bit of a problem when you're presenting some kind of apocalyptic Thatcherite hell.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sinclair's Splendid Smoke Opera 12 Jan 2002
I think Michael Moorcock coined the phrase 'Smoke Opera' to describe the raft of "London" books, both fiction and non-fiction, which have been published in the last few years and reaching some kind of culmination with that great work of fiction Ackroyd's "London: A Biography". Downriver remains my favourite Sinclair novel and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you want real substance, a sense of value which you get from a Victorian classic, with the sense of street suss you expect from the latest junkista. It's very persuasive writing. Like Mother London, you have to take the writer's authority on trust, because this isn't a standard modernist text, but it is so thoroughly rewarding, you will not regret giving him that trust. These are very substantial books indeed, likely to outlast most of their contemporaries! Downriver will run and run! Twelve interconnecting narratives. Twelve times the value of the average Martin Amis! I originally bought this because Laurie Taylor said it was the best value for money to take on holiday. He was right.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rich and deep 14 July 2001
By A Customer
This is the best of all the London books and could be one of the best novels of the past forty or fifty years! It is written on dozens of levels and can be reread for fresh insights, humour and general brilliance. Wonderful book. Honestly, most other stuff seems pretty thin in comparison.
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27 of 35 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All Over the Map 21 Jan 2003
I picked up this book for a number of reasons: primarily, I was intrigued by the concept of a novel comprised of twelve stories which would reveal a gritty, dark side of London's docklands. (I'm not a Londoner, nor have I spent a great deal of time there, but I am drawn to fiction about it for some reason.) I have to admit I was also impressed with the plethora of effusive praise from the British press on the jacket. Having read the first three stories, I have now set it aside, unlikely to return to it. Why? Well, it all starts and ends with Sinclair's style. Had I known beforehand that he is a poet, I probably would have avoided the book. My experience with poets is that their prose style tends to be overly ornate. Some find this wholly delightful, but it generally leaves me deeply unmoved.
I liked the notion of what Sinclair was trying to do in tying the Thames to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and mixing it all up with a critique of Thatcherite policies and the the capitalist assault on the underclass. He's clearly a writer with a political viewpoint who absorbs his cultural surroundings and infuse them back into his writing. Unfortunately, the connections aren't always visible, and worse, the stories aren't particularly interesting. There are flashes here and there of something, and clearly Sinclair has masses of knowledge and skill, but it's hard to find any cohesion to it all. The reviewer at The New York Times put it rather well in saying, "The book is a tremendous pillar of words, not all of them making direct sense and not trying to." It's writing one can appreciate, but not really enjoy, and since I have stacks of other unread books waiting for me, I'll put this one aside-perhaps forever.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Un-Understandable
Neither I nor anyone in my book-group liked this book, in fact I was the only one to finish it. I should explain that I downloaded the book so my husband, whose sight is not good... Read more
Published 13 months ago by hazel talbot
5.0 out of 5 stars Magic
This book made me fall deep in love with London (and cities in general). There aren't many books I could point to and say 'This changed who I am', but this is one of them. Read more
Published 20 months ago by P Browne
4.0 out of 5 stars The Christiano Ronaldo Of British Literature
Towards the end of Iain Sinclair's 1991 novel Downriver, two of the novel's main protagonists, the narrator (a Sinclair character himself) and his associate, the sculptor Joblard,... Read more
Published on 20 July 2012 by Keith M
5.0 out of 5 stars Not quite for the Easy Reading shelf .........
The actual story in each chapter is quite an illusive one, it has to be sought out. It is between a lot of "Sinclair to Savour". Read more
Published on 1 Jun 2012 by C. A. Russell
4.0 out of 5 stars Frequently exasperating, but Sinclair's shaggy dog story has a unique...
When Angela Carter no less, whose own work couldn't exactly be described as conventional, is quoted on this book's back cover blurb describing it as "a great, strange [... Read more
Published on 4 Mar 2007 by Dr. Kenneth W. Douglas
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this book
This book is at the vanguard of contemporary English 'fiction'. Sinclair understands London like no-one else, he is the true successor to Blake.
Published on 7 Oct 1999 by Maldoror
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