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London Orbital [Paperback]

Iain Sinclair
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
Price: £10.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

2 Oct 2003

London Orbital is Iain Sinclair's voyage of discovery into the unloved outskirts of the city.

Encircling London like a noose, the M25 is a road to nowhere, but when Iain Sinclair sets out to walk this asphalt loop - keeping within the 'acoustic footprints' - he is determined to find out where the journey will lead him. Stumbling upon converted asylums, industrial and retail parks, ring-fenced government institutions and lost villages, Sinclair discovers a Britain of the fringes, a landscape consumed by developers. London Orbital charts this extraordinary trek and round trip of the soul, revealing the country as you've never seen it before.

'My book of the year. Sentence for sentence, there is no more interesting writer at work in English' John Lanchester, Daily Telegraph

'A magnum opus, my book of the year. I urge you to read it. In fact, if you're a Londoner and haven't read it by the end of next year, I suggest you leave' Will Self, Evening Standard

'A journey into the heart of darkness and a fascinating snapshot of who we are, lit by Sinclair's vivid prose. I'm sure it will be read fifty years from now' J. G. Ballard, Observer

Iain Sinclair is the author of Downriver (winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Encore Award); Landor's Tower; White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings; Lights Out for the Territory; Lud Heat; Rodinsky's Room (with Rachel Lichtenstein); Radon Daughters; London Orbital, Dining on Stones, Hackney, that Rose-Red Empire and Ghost Milk. He is also the editor of London: City of Disappearances.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (2 Oct 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141014741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141014746
  • Product Dimensions: 3.4 x 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 35,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

Amazon Review

One might be forgiven for thinking that the only thing more boring than spending a year walking around the M25 would be reading a large book about walking around the M25. Yet Iain Sinclair's London Orbital is a fascinating and curiously haunting read. Part of the reason is that Sinclair brings to the project an immense literary talent, an intense and lifelong interest in the history of London and some extremely interesting travelling companions.

The walk was taken in several stages, from Waltham Abbey to Shenley, Abbots Langley to Staines, Staines to Epsom and Epsom to Westerham before going on to Dartford, the river and Carfax and arriving back at Waltham Abbey. Each stage fills a chapter and the reader is advised to take a leaf out of Sinclair's own book by taking one stage, one chapter at a time. This is a large book of 450-odd pages and by the time the journey gets under way-–about 60 pages in--even Sinclair's dazzling prose is not enough to offset the gloomy prospect of taking a second-hand trip around the London Orbital. And yet after the first trip one finds oneself being sucked in and thinking about some of the grey, ugly images, or being angered by the grasping and philistine approach of developers and copywriters and the cynicism and hypocrisy of government.

The history of London has long been Sinclair's great passion but he populates this strange excursion with flesh-and-blood people as well as literary and mythic figures: there's John Clare watching Byron's funeral procession before embarking on his epic three-day journey back to Northborough, "chewing tobacco and gnawing grass torn up from the roadside"; then there are tales of Dracula, of lost lunatic asylums, of passionate political activists crying out against toxic land and of meetings with ex-members of London's criminal underworld.

London Orbital gets under the skin. What looks at first like a dull and deeply unappealing journey is actually a multi-layered, lyrical, ugly, mythical, engaged and engaging excursion from the present into the past and back again. --Larry Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'It isn't often that one reads a book and is convinced that it's an instant classic, but I'm sure that LONDON ORBITAL will be read 50 years from now. This account of his walk around the M25 is on one level a journey into the heart of darkness, that terrain of golf courses, retail parks and industrial estates which is Blair's Britain. It's a fascinating snapshot of who we are, lit by Sinclair's vivid prose, and on another level a warning that the mythological England of village greens and cycling aunts has been buried under the rush of a million radial tyres' J. G. Ballard, Observer

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 49 people found the following review helpful
The other reviews here left me a little puzzled, perhaps the readers found Sinclair a tad intimidating? I don't say this to be unkind, as at times, I too had to put the book down to take some respite from the barrage of information, images and references. This is more than just a piece of travel writing, it is the nexus of an almost overwhelming number of intertextual as well as geographic explorations. Iain Sinclair walked, not just through the physical locations he describes, but also through time, history and the sheer abstract. His wanderings as a modern day flaneur are inciteful, educated and hugely original. The story of a hike around the M25 really shouldn't be interesting, but Sinclair makes it so. He opens our eyes to the political and historical reality of the gradually increasing sprawl of London, as well as its psychological effects on modern life. I read this and then graduated to the even more intimidating 'Landor's Tower'. I'd recommend both highly, but unless you're widely read, you may have a little trouble keeping up with Sinclair's train of thought. He doesn't insult his readers, he assumes a high level of intelligence. A breath of fresh air in these times of trashy faddish novels and celebrity autobiographies...
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but hard going at times 25 Feb 2008
London Orbital deserves the praise it's received - it's well-written, interesting and stays in the mind beyond the last page. However - it's not always an easy, comfortable read. Sinclair paints a realistic, harsh picture of the environment he encounters on his trek around the M25 - there is little light relief to the darkness of urban sprawls, murky property deals, criminality, insanity and retail parks that seems to form the bulk of the book.

I know part of his route very well - living quite close to Junction 9 of the motorway and knowing something of the history and geography of the Epsom/Leatherhead area. Even here, in what I consider to be pleasant surroundings, there are dark deeds to be uncovered by Sinclair and his band of wonderful eccentrics who trek around the motorway with him.

At the end of the book, I felt as if I'd literally done the journey with him. A worthy, intelligent book - but not your average skim read in terms of travel writing. It's much more intense than that.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Rolling English Road it's not... 4 Feb 2009
"London Orbital" is the first work from Iain Sinclair that I have tackled. To be honest, I wondered at the beginning of this extraordinary journey, whether I was going to make it. But after a few weeks, I have reached the end, my brain in a similar condition to the state of one of Sinclair's unfortunate walking companion's feet.

It took me a long time to get into not only what this book is, but the way it is written. In some ways, it reminded me of Sebald's "Rings of Saturn" - a train of consciousness triggered by a physical journey - but there are major differences. Sebald's wanderings (mental and physical) are alone and introverted, while Sinclair's journey is very much in company. It probably didn't help me that Sinclair's book and journey starts and ends at the point of the M25 that is least known to me - the North East.

However, I persisted and certainly felt rewarded. Once I realised that you don't have to "get" all the references - and these days, you can always do a quick Google if you really want to follow them up - I joined in to encounter a succession of extraordinary images, from deserted Victorian mental asylums, to boggy wastelands, to garden suburbs, to technology parks and retail developments to greasy spoon cafes. Woven into these landscapes is the human history and detail - truly fascinating. The sections that I enjoyed the most concentrated on what is for me familiar territory in the South-Western stretches of the motorway.

I could have done - as in Sebald's book - with a few photos and illustrations (even a map!), though I expect these are to be found in the hardback edition. And there is rather too much repetition, but overall, a very rewarding, unique and fascinating read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Superb book. 2 May 2012
By Croker
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Brilliant and interesting look at the M25's hold on London and the surrounding area.
A great incite into things you probably drove,walked or cycled past and never gave a second thought.
Disturbing,inciteful and funny.Buy it.
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28 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing, fascinating, couldn't put it down 21 Nov 2002
Knowing Sinclair as a brilliant, if sometimes knotty, writer, I wasn't sure he was going to pull this idea off. He chose to walk around the M.25, sometimes accompanied by various eccentric friends, sometimes encountering eccentrics along the way. The road, as in certain famous American books, actually provides the narrative and dynamic. You keep reading, just as you might keep walking or driving -- just to see what's around the next turn and the next. This is a fascinating mix of fact, poetic inspiration and commentary on the state of our country, especially as exemplified by London. It mourns the death of history, the corruption of our humanity, just as it tells us things we never knew about London's fringes. Why, for intance, were all the mad houses set where they were? What mysterious, maybe poisonous factories are located there? Who inhabits this strange, previously unremarked wasteland? Sinclair's prose is laconic,
poetic and utterly engaging. I thought this would be a book I would dip into now and again. Instead I found myself refusing food and sleep until I had finished it. It has something in common with Cobbett, just as Sinclair seems to have much in common with those eighteenth century writers who took an interest in EVERYTHING. Some of his usual heroes are here - Ballard, the
poet of the motorways, Moorcock, the visionary explorer of unknown London alleys - but the book has a freshness of vision and prose which invigorates or reinvigorates everything he talks about.
The quality of paper and binding should also be mentioned. Few books, these days, are as well made and, like Sinclair's sturdy
prose, built to last for centuries!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Bought this for one penny second hand, and to ...
Bought this for one penny second hand, and to be frank, that was overpriced. Lasted 14 pages and recycled. Utter tosh.
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars The Outer Limits Explored
A fascinating exploration of London's outer suburbs and surrounding areas. These often amazing real stories are well realised and clearly written by someone who cares. Read more
Published 16 months ago by RL Cloherty
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag
I had wanted to read this book for a long time being interested in the concept of psychogeography as expounded by Sinclair, and indeed the concept is still a very interesting one,... Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2012 by Howellsey
5.0 out of 5 stars Reversing demonic energies
Iain Sinclair and his band of merry pranksters circumnavigate the M25 in an attempt to exorcise the bad vibes of the Thatcher and Blair regimes. Read more
Published on 21 July 2011 by G. J. Marsh
1.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic concept yet awful - if not dire - in execution
I was immediately attracted to this book, as I love unusual, quirky concepts (for example books such as "Broke Through Britain" by Peter Mortimer). Read more
Published on 13 Mar 2011 by Mr. M. Lamb
2.0 out of 5 stars Gave it the cold (hard) Shoulder
Living a stone's throw from the M25 and being a keen walker and (not so keen) M25 marauder I was quite looking forward to this, the book having occupied my shelf for a few years... Read more
Published on 16 May 2010 by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious Tripe
badly in need of an editor Sinclair visits a few of his old mates and otherwise wanders around pretending to be dangerous and mysterious
Published on 2 Dec 2009 by charlie james
2.0 out of 5 stars Good idea , rubbish book
This looked great in the bookshop but after the 1st few pages I knew it was going to be a difficult journey (excuse the pun). Read more
Published on 29 Oct 2009 by JimmyDCFC
5.0 out of 5 stars London Orbital
Its some time since I read London Orbital so perhaps this review is not as precise as it should be, and gives my memory of reading it. I was astounded. Read more
Published on 27 April 2008 by Etta Alex
1.0 out of 5 stars Driven round the bend
I am afraid I have to agree with the reviewers who didn't like "London Orbital". I originally skimmed through the book in a bookshop and it didn't appeal to me. Read more
Published on 13 Dec 2006 by Mr. Christian Hoskins
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