3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Don't open this book if you want to read a cozy biography of Hackney,
This review is from: Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report (Paperback)
Don't open this book if you want to read a cozy biography of Hackney.
Its not a Time Out Guide, nor a Pevsner nor a scholarly history of the area. Sinclair's main concern making sense of a place he's lived in for forty years. If you've read London Orbital, this book is a less angular and more lyrical than his traversal around London's "noose".
Sinclair is pushing retirement age, has brought up a family in the borough, has lived through the enormous social change that's hit London over the past 40 years. In his younger days Hackney was a mainly Jewish neighbourhood, at best down-at-heel and at worst violent and tough. Over the ensuing years the Jewish population have moved out to be replaced with a new generation of immigrants. The old hustlers, gangsters and characters memories are recorded by Sinclair cut-up (Burrough's style) with impressions, vignettes, snippets, chance connections, ley lines, movie stars and mole-men. The resulting collage hangs together thanks to a menage of crazy characters and their connections to each other and the author. The ghosts of Burroughs, Orson Wells, Roland Camberton, Julie Christie (shadow in her case!) to name a few haunt the book's pages. Through these ghouls Sinclair's traces his way around Hackney's haunts. (Urgh).
The author casts himself as an old curmudgeon, an axe grinder, saddened by scandals of political corruptions, destruction of the area's heritage, the influx from Islington and the realisation of the Olympic dream. The author striving to make sense of the change, the upheaval, his own evolution and the general grind of life in the city. Sinclair's a poet too, and metaphor and imagery suffuse the pages cut up amongst transcribed-interviews and Sinclair's own patrol of his territory.
There's no doubt in my mind that Sinclair is a great writer: here's a book that's passionate and lyrical on one-hand, bluff and thorny on the other. Pages are littered with razor sharp, witty prose that few writers could dream of let alone pull weld into a coherent volume of almost 600 pages. Snippets linger in the mind - Swan - Sawn for instance! Mole man, magical ley lines connecting end-points of the borough, dug tunnels connected to transportation tunnels, the canal as an artery carrying life-blood from Islington borders to the east.
Whereas I did find London Orbital engaging, it was a bit of a slog to finish. The Hackney book seems to have more line, an easier flow. I happily read though it in several sittings, and was very sad to reach the last page.