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The Rolling English Road it's not...
on 4 February 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.