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Edge of the Orison: In the Traces of John Clare's 'Journey Out Of Essex' Hardcover – 29 Sep 2005
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About the Author
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 and Dining on Stones. He lives in Hackney, East London.
Top customer reviews
I felt that Sinclair did best when he stuck to his story. In 1820 Clare makes his first visit to London as a rustic novelty: Sinclair compares him to the Elephant Man, which I thought was an interesting comparison. He is also good at describing the wide eyed wonder Clare must have felt walking around the city in the era of Blake and Keats. It was a city of whores, resurrection men, disease and overcrowding. A world away from Clare's rural life and a wholly different moral atmosphere to that of the poet's rural upbringing. Was being feted in this corrupt city the source of Clare's mental torment?
Sinclair's latter day reconstruction of Clare's journey begins in the industrialised landscape of the Lea Valley in the midst of industrial estates, motorways and travel lodges and he makes his way north via various Hertfordshire towns. He encounters the England of chain pubs and shopping outlets and as one might expect Sinclair is scathing about the heritage industry version of history that he seemingly encounters everywhere. Although the place names may be the same as in Clare's time, the 'meaning' of the land had changed beyond all recognition. If you enjoy Sinclair's post-modern style of writing then you may enjoy the book however, I felt that it only scratched the surface of Clare's life and art.
The family history quest involves some well-described explorations of the Fenland landscape, but also rather too much detail of which William begat which Robert - family history here, as always, being more interesting to the researcher than to the outsider who has it recounted to them. It's a touching tribute to a marriage, and a more human and domestic side to Sinclair than we've seen before, but it could have been edited down: until now I would have said that Sinclair couldn't write a dull line if he tried, but his description of what people ate at a surprise anniversary meal for his wife manages it - doubly a shame given the Dickensian verve with which Sinclair can write about food, and with which he blowtorches the diners at a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet elsewhere in the book. Furthermore, the family history never really gels with the Clare material: and James Joyce's daughter Lucia seems to be crowbarred in there, the facts that Anna Sinclair's family also included a James Joyce, and that Lucia ended up in the same asylum as John Clare, failing to justify her presence.
The book is worth exploring - as everything Sinclair writes is - and it does some interesting things with the sheer weirdness of the Middle Level landscape, but it's a bit of a mixed bag, and not the place to start on this important writer.
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