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3.3 out of 5 stars26
3.3 out of 5 stars
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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.
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on 23 June 2004
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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on 2 May 2012
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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VINE VOICEon 25 February 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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on 21 April 2016
For the few of you who, like myself, have grown up, gone to school, studied at university, and now work, all within (near) earshot of the M25; this is a semi-biographical work of pure poetry. Sinclair's utter self-indulgence in writing this book is forgivable simply based upon the near-spiritual effort he had spent upon completing his endeavour. Admittedly the book only achieves it's excellence when considered as an entirety; long and incoherent passages on the history of Epsom and the Thames estuary are endurable only because of the occasional beauty of his writing. But above all else, this is a book that collapses the unilineality of time, and through Sinclair's vast and erudite pattern of references to the people, places, spaces, and nature that he encounters upon his walks, he proves that everything that has ever happened, has only ever happened in the ever-present 'now'. And although this book is over a decade old now, and already refers to a by-gone era of early-noughties excess, it is a book that will surely be referred to forever more as a dictionary of the contemporary zeitgeist.
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on 26 February 2015
Having heard a lot about Iain Sinclair it was good to get a read of him at long last. I wasn't disappointed. It may take a little while to bed in with this but once you do he is a reliable, entertaining and highly informative narrator and guide to London. One piece of advice I would give would be to have a pen and paper to hand or a reliable internet connection in order to chase up many of the fascinating and compelling references and names he gives. A highly rewarding read.
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on 21 July 2011
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. No-one writes quite like Sinclair, and all his familiar psychogeographical tropes are here in what is probably his magnum opus. This is a book about peripheries and hidden knowledge, cast aside to the boundaries by politicians who have no interest in history or the significance of place. These forgotten, ghostly edgelands are expertly revealed in Sinclair's crackling, often hilarious, prose. A fascinating book. Highly recommended.
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on 25 June 2013
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. For example the various stories of the asylums around London such as the Epsom Triangle are worthy of a whole book. Despite its length this book is never boring.
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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 since purchase.

After several unfulfilling hours I soon realised why it had remained untouched for so long. To be honest, it's just a big ramble (no pun intended) and rant about whatever random thought jumped into the authors head from Maggie to Tone, unscrupulous developers, the Millennium Dome (a good 15 miles from the M25) you name it, Sinclair has a long drawn out opinion on it. It was about 100 pages in before the M25 was physically reached, the author making his way there via the Lea Valley (see other rants) with two virtually silent companions - Unabomber creator and the so-clever bloke from KLF who supposedly burnt a million quid for the sake of it. You judge a man by the company he keeps I guess.

Call me old-fashioned but I thought this would be an interesting account of the journey with factual background added for interest but this is about Iain Sinclair demonstrating his use of big words and total lack of humour. No banter, no laughs, nothing. I gave up after about a third of the way through when the author had travelled about 150 yards along the motorway, or at least I think he had. It was difficult to tell and I was well past caring by then...
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on 13 December 2006
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. However, a friend bought a copy for me as a gift and so I ended up reading it.

Firstly, "London Orbital" says surprisingly little about the M25 itself. Anyone interested in the history of how a major motorway came to be built in the green belt surrounding London or seeking an analysis of the effect it has had on local communities in terms of transport, economics and the environment will be disappointed. Instead, Sinclair uses the general location of the M25 as an excuse to write about anything in the area which takes his fancy.

Unfortunately this includes a lot of things which are speculative or just gossip. A good example is Sinclair's account of the housing development at Enfield Island Village. For nearly 200 years the land was previously occupied by the Enfield Royal Small Arms Factory. Sinclair drops dark hints that the land the housing is built on may be contaminated with chemicals or even radioactivity from the factory. However, it appears that the only source for this information is a conversation with a local resident who once knew someone who worked in the factory. Sinclair doesn't actually seem to have done any proper research into this subject, which is disappointing.

The Island Village issue is typical of the negativity and cynicism in this book. However, I didn't find much humour, and it all gets a bit wearying after a while. I was also wearied by the writing style which consists mainly of short sentences and missing verbs. At first this is fresh and original, but soon becomes a major headache.

Negative reviews such as this one tend to be rated badly by other Amazon reviewers, but I can only report on how I found the book. To be honest, I couldn't finish it. I thought it was terrible.
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