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Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report Paperback – 25 Feb 2010
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'An explosion of literary fireworks' -- Peter Ackroyd, The Times
'Few books become causes celebres before they are published. But Sinclair's is one' -- Guardian
'On his territory there's nobody to touch him' -- Sunday Times
'Sinclair at his best . . . One of the finest books about London in recent decades' -- Sukhdev Sandhu, Daily Telegraph --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
'An explosion of literary fireworks' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product description
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So perhaps a little too much filler and lack of focus for a book on such a relatively small area, but Sinclair still knows how to turn the dullest of anecdotes on its head with his exhilarating flair for prose. Enough to keep the fans happy, but one to be filed under "Memoir" rather than "History".
If like me, you're looking to learn about the history of the borough and what it used to be, find something else.
I will reiterate what the other 1-2 star reviewers wrote.
Firstly the writing style. The book is incredibly hard to read with little connection between sentences. There are full stops everywhere and without any verbs it means most of the 'sentences' are actually statements. In addition, it also feels like each sentence has been run through a thesaurus to make it as confusing and pretentious as possible.
I have read books of this style before, however they took on a more whimsical tone and content which you could get involved with. Unfortunately I bought this book because I wanted to take away some knowledge and not for the 'experience' of reading it. I find that making your readers search for that information does not work.
Secondly the content. After the introduction of each chapter it then trails off into confusing storytelling with no real point. I'm sure this guy has had a great interesting life in Hackney, but I wanted more information about Hackney as the title suggests, rather than a random autobiography with a tidbits of Hackney in it.
Really not my cup of tea. On a positive, I'm sure those who can't get enough of a thesaurus and read for the words not the content would actually love it.
Make no mistake about it, Sinclair can (still) write. As a shaper of phrases and chronicler of the low level crackle and static of the urban street, the white noise of minor threat and aggro that lies behind even the quietest moment, he has few equals. My problem with this book is that, essentially, it's not about Hackney at all, but about the uses to which Hackney and what it stands for can be put by a bunch of middle-class Bohemian incomers. Sinclair chiefly chronicles his thirty years living in Hackney firstly through interviewing people from his own artistic milieu who, like him, moved into the cheap housing here and pursued their own alternative lifestyles, or secondly through pursuing the stories of lost novelists who have similarly used Hackney as set-dressing. Will Self, Marina Warner, Chris Petit: the gang's all here. What we have much less of are the natives; notably, Sinclair seems to speak to one black person in the course of the book, and he's another creative type who's used as a conduit to tell us what all the other black people in the borough, the ones without a novel or mural on the go, are thinking.
The Bohemian viewpoint is an Olympian one: from this standpoint, all government either local or national is the work of charlatans or buffoons. We have the obligatory anti-Tony Blair stuff; we also have positively Clarkson-esque opposition to local council initiatives to foster cycling or recycling. Pretty much every administrative body gets it in the neck apart from the defunct Inner London Education Authority (who, it can't be coincidence, used to employ Sinclair's wife). We learn of Sinclair's reluctance to pay his council tax; later, encountering an arts project funded by Hackney Borough Council he comments that he'd have been happier to pay up if he'd known they were spending the money on this, instead of fobbing him off with nonsense about schools and waste disposal. Clearly that's meant to be a joke, but there's a truth behind it. Of course there's corruption and incompetence in Hackney Council - a long, sorry history of it - but this is at least a body grappling with some of the problems of the area, with real poverty leading to real suffering for real people, whilst the Bohemian flâneur passes by with an ironically raised eyebrow.
Returning to my point about productivity and journalism - as in a lot of recent Sinclair work, we get too much of the man himself, detailing how he went about getting the book written: he and his family muscling into the foreground and crowding out the urban landscape that was his forte. Writing about the process of writing is a classic journalistic space-filler; we even get a bit about his computer problems (next and final stop for the desperate journalist filling column inches anyhow, the column on erecting flat-pack furniture). We learn of his being commissioned to write the book and, as it progresses, we hear more and more about the deadline approaching and how certain alleyways will have to remain unexplored if he's to deliver it on time. There's a palpable air of "Will this do?" as we reach the ending. Ultimately, it's a bit of a lazy book: lazily assembled, and a chronicle of a lazy refusal to engage with Hackney as it actually is rather than simply using it and its natives as a gritty backdrop for his own purposes.
This sounds like a two-star or even one-star rubbishing. And yet he can still write, even if he chooses to spread it thinly across too much product at the moment. Three stars, then, because the sentences are still well put together, even if their content may drive you spare.
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many "sentences" not containing a verb.Read more