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Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project
Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project
by Iain Sinclair
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

19 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Emperor's New Walking Boots, pt 454, 8 July 2012
The English love a moaner, as long as he doesn't challenge their habits or demand action. This is why Iain Sinclair has been able to publish so much weak non-fiction over the years - and make no mistake, that's all 'Ghost Milk' is (it's not a 'docu-novel' or part of an art project, whatever anyone half-heartedly claims).

Insights shared here include: Iain doesn't like the new buildings much; people at the council have got computers now; and "spam email - what's that all about?" There's a strong whiff of the Partridge throughout: substitute 'Hackney' for 'Norwich' and you'll see what I mean. Dull details of his daily wanders, meetings with small-time media contacts, complaints about the council you'd expect to hear from the Taxpayers' Alliance, a cancelled book reading, and a contretemps with a friendly French listings magazine - it's accidentally quite funny in places, read in Partridge's voice. That's the kind of survival tactic you'll need to develop to get through it. He wakes up a bit when discussing other writers, and remembers a couple of times to describe the light on the canal poetically, but these are very meagre rewards when spread across 430 pages.

The opening reminiscences about his Hackney life in the 70s are quite interesting, but they do remind you that he was an engaged, creative writer back then. His career since seems to reflect the decline he sees in the country quite neatly. I get the impression publishers have steadily become more brand conscious and commercially minded, and light reading like 'Ghost Milk' won't frighten any horses; it's basically bit of travel, local history and news speak mixed together - all idioms familiar from newspaper leisure sections - which must be why so much of it has been commissioned. And of course it gets him a gig as the "I think it is a bad thing" guy on pre-Olympics news coverage (he actually seems to hate everything, almost indiscriminately, but even a stopped clock is right twice a day). That's a much easier pitch than his previous, densely written fiction and esoteric poetry, because it's so bland; but he's not good enough company for it to be a pleasant read in that mode. Neither, sadly, is he doing anything creative or challenging enough to earn a grand label like 'psychogeography'. Psychological awareness is singularly lacking here, as is an insightful survey of the London landscape. Instead, we get endless moaning about the minutiae of our narrator's apparently very pleasant life.

He walks right past the big subjects without offering any useful perspective on them. He doesn't know much about architecture. He doesn't understand how politics and town planning work (he can't even tell the difference between New Labour's central government spin-masters and the local council). He doesn't give you any sense of how people's lives have changed during the Blair-Cameron years. There have been some great recent reads that get stuck into these issues and show this book up for the lazy work it is - Owen Hatherley's A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, John Lanchester's Whoops! and Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism spring immediately to mind.

Sinclair badly needs to put his feet up and come up with some new ideas if he's ever to write another word worth reading. (Cue a follow-up about the aftermath of the Olympics....)
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 8, 2012 5:55 AM GMT


Downriver
Downriver
by Iain Sinclair
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The beginning of the end, 8 July 2012
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This review is from: Downriver (Paperback)
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.


No Regrets: Writings on Scott Walker: Collected Pieces
No Regrets: Writings on Scott Walker: Collected Pieces
by Rob Young
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best of Both Worlds, 3 July 2012
This book is worth buying for Ian Penman and David Toop's essays alone. I say 'alone': the first of those must be 20,000 words long, and it's as incisive and creative as music writing gets, very powerful stuff in places. No mean feat when you're writing about the 'lost years' most people neglect. The second brings 'The Drift' alive by drawing your attention to a surprising set of musical styles, books and films from across various cultures and eras, and seamlessly back to its subject again. I guess the ever-elusive Walker is the ideal subject for good writers like these to get stuck into, cause they're free to let rip.


Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen (Zero Books)
Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don't Get Stockhausen (Zero Books)
by David Stubbs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quixotic celebration, 3 Sept. 2011
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Just re-read this, and I'm surprised to see the negative comments below, most of which are of the "But it's not a completely different book!" variety. I've always liked Stubbs' writing, from Melody Maker to Wire, so perhaps I knew what to expect: a quixotic celebration of great music and a handy way in to various experimental types. My hard drive overfloweth.

As someone who likes some experimental as well as normal music, it is frustrating that people can hardly contain their laughter or contempt when you describe it to them, while they'll gladly accept some pretty naff "far-out" stuff from visual artists. The money invested in the latter must reassure people.

The editing in this book obviously went glitchy in places (did Oval remix it?) but it's not such a big deal: all it means is a repeated or scrambled phrase here and there.

Still don't like Stockhausen or Rothko, mind you.


Blindness
Blindness
by Jose Saramago
Edition: Paperback

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A word on style, 15 Jan. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Blindness (Paperback)
Just to allay any fears regarding the style: Blindness is anything but 'unpunctuated'. All Saramago does is use commas where you might expect full stops or speech marks, so that the action and dialogue run into each other very naturally. It makes for a much pacier read than your Hemingway-indebted, short-sentence bores tend to manage, funnily enough, and adds to the sense of the epidemic spreading like water trickling downward.

I'd hate anyone to miss out on this wonderful, life-affirming, unflinching novel because they (quite reasonably) fear self-indulgent, ineffective prose trickery. Dude's not French, you know.


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