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London Orbital Paperback – 2 Oct 2003
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One might be forgiven for thinking that the only thing more boring than spending a year walking around the M25 would be reading a large book about walking around the M25. Yet Iain Sinclair's London Orbital is a fascinating and curiously haunting read. Part of the reason is that Sinclair brings to the project an immense literary talent, an intense and lifelong interest in the history of London and some extremely interesting travelling companions.
The walk was taken in several stages, from Waltham Abbey to Shenley, Abbots Langley to Staines, Staines to Epsom and Epsom to Westerham before going on to Dartford, the river and Carfax and arriving back at Waltham Abbey. Each stage fills a chapter and the reader is advised to take a leaf out of Sinclair's own book by taking one stage, one chapter at a time. This is a large book of 450-odd pages and by the time the journey gets under way-about 60 pages in--even Sinclair's dazzling prose is not enough to offset the gloomy prospect of taking a second-hand trip around the London Orbital. And yet after the first trip one finds oneself being sucked in and thinking about some of the grey, ugly images, or being angered by the grasping and philistine approach of developers and copywriters and the cynicism and hypocrisy of government.
The history of London has long been Sinclair's great passion but he populates this strange excursion with flesh-and-blood people as well as literary and mythic figures: there's John Clare watching Byron's funeral procession before embarking on his epic three-day journey back to Northborough, "chewing tobacco and gnawing grass torn up from the roadside"; then there are tales of Dracula, of lost lunatic asylums, of passionate political activists crying out against toxic land and of meetings with ex-members of London's criminal underworld.
London Orbital gets under the skin. What looks at first like a dull and deeply unappealing journey is actually a multi-layered, lyrical, ugly, mythical, engaged and engaging excursion from the present into the past and back again. --Larry Brown --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
'It isn't often that one reads a book and is convinced that it's an instant classic, but I'm sure that LONDON ORBITAL will be read 50 years from now. This account of his walk around the M25 is on one level a journey into the heart of darkness, that terrain of golf courses, retail parks and industrial estates which is Blair's Britain. It's a fascinating snapshot of who we are, lit by Sinclair's vivid prose, and on another level a warning that the mythological England of village greens and cycling aunts has been buried under the rush of a million radial tyres' J. G. Ballard, ObserverSee all Product description
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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.
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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