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Lights Out for the Territory
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on 11 October 2010
I have only had time to dip in and out of this wonderful book because I am currently reading about life in Hackney also courtesy of Mr Sinclair.Suffice it to say that his prose is fluid,intelligent and a joy to read I especially enjoyed his account of a putative meeting with Lord Archer.Mr Sinclair's feeling and respect for the history,people and atmosphere of places he knows so well is lightly bourne and delivered in an easy,sumptuous style.
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on 15 July 2001
What can you say about someone who pokes every eye including his own? In its relentless pursuit of that English national pastime, sneering, this dense thicket of a book encapsulates Wilde's definition of a cynic. Targets range from the Krays to Lord Archer through Thatcher (of course) and anyone else with the temerity to pass before Sinclair's broadcast gaze, including himself. A combination of unremitting carping and abstruse referencing can be tedious, and Lights Out lays out deserts of tedium. But they're nearly worth negotiating for the jewels that come out of them, because Sinclair's obviously no idiot and his hot-and-cold mind can produce gems. He has the uncanny ability to conjure up a scene without describing it in detail, whether it be London's back alleys or the view from Archer's window, pocket-parks or tidewater filth. By the end of the book you feel as if you've spent the longest evening of your life in a pub with an intelligent, but increasingly drunk, companion. As the evening wears on the conversation becomes one-sided, disconnected and relevant only to the speaker. You're glad when he finally runs out of steam and goes home, but the next day you warmly recall the brighter parts of the evening...
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on 17 August 1999
This is an excellent, eccentric and funny book bursting with ideas and descriptions of London, its hidden places and characters.Part history, part sociology, part travel and part weird ramblings, it defies definition and yet it works. The real deight is not knowing where you are going to be taken next. Sinclair's description of Archer and his penthouse is almost worth the cover price alone. Add to that a wonderful bibliography which could keep you busy for a couple of years. Sinclair works hard to entertain the reader on his extraordinary walks with his friend with razor sharp observations which stay in the mind. He sees connections between people and places which seemingly have nothing in common. Wordy and dense yes, but also richly entertaining. If you are interested in the Krays, Derek Raymond, Peter Fuller, Antonioni's "Blow Up", old London churches and cemetaries etc then you will love this heroic book. "Lights Out" will either become a cult book or be remaindered:probably both!
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on 26 February 1999
You don't have to know the Bakers Arms, Walthamstow Tech, or Chingford Mount Cemetary as well as I do to enjoy this eye-opening journey by Iain Sinclair. The words jump off the walls, and encourages anyone to open their eyes next time they take a walk around their local patch. "Free George Davis," or "Nostalgia/Is/A/Weapon," the opinion of the streets becomes interwoven with documented fact and the myth and folk lore of a community. The only mystery, is how Mr. Sinclair missed Walthamstow Cemetary, Queens Road, and The Light House? Perhaps next time?
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 December 2016
With a writing style which mixes the terse, oblique, witty, convoluted and inspirational in roughly equal measure, Iain Sinclair’s 1997 trawl through the artistic underworld of his adopted London home certainly has its downs as well as its many ups, in the end providing much intriguing historical detail, both entertaining and educational. Taking the form of a series of essays, Sinclair sets off in 'psychogeographer’ mode (in much the same vein as Patrick Keiller’s wonderful 1994 film London, which Sinclair discusses here with a good deal of affection), alongside photographer Marc Atkins to document and elaborate on the capital’s hidden treasures. I (quite logically I suppose given its non-fictional, evocative nature) find that Sinclair’s writing is most engaging when you’re (at least partially) familiar with the topics under discussion. Thus, his discussions on the (for me) relative obscurities of the ‘alternative poetry’ scene leave me rather bored, whilst his more ‘mainstream’ observations and dissection of the likes of macho-pit bull culture, the funeral of Ronnie Kray and an aborted visit to the penthouse pad of Jeffrey Archer all provide much witty banter. Best of all though, being a personal penchant, are the discussions of 'obscure’ British film-makers such as the aforementioned Keiller, Chris Petit and Michael Reeves, plus his concluding examination of Antonioni’s Blow-Up.
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on 23 November 2016
Oh dear: this book is typical Sinclair - a bizarre mix of intermittent brilliant sentences decorating a mush of overwritten, self-indulgent twaddle. At its best it's tremendous, but most of it I found tedious and digressive. Distasteful at times, too: a weird sort of reverence for 'characters' like the despicable gangsters the Kray twins and their circle. And also Sinclair is capable of cynical elitism as when he writes of the kinds of working class urbanites who keep vicious dogs. Too much occult mysticism and ostentatious display of erudition, too. But that's just my opinion. He is a good writer - but needs a judicious editor.
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on 11 November 1998
Lights Out for the Territory is a dense reading of 90's London. More informative than a dozen tourguides, it follows the author's wanderings as he inscribes his path on the urban landscape, while reading the signs and people and stories encountered on the way. It captures that simultaneous feeling of madness, magic and decay, of history and secrets just beyond your reach, that comprise a goodly percentage my antipodean memories of London living. It traverses the mysterious and the banal, art and death, Howard Marks and Frankie Fraser. Lets hope there will be a sequel. Read and enjoy.
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on 15 August 2009
Sinclair's erudite and scholarly approach renders visible a London that is neglected, ignored and even widely unknown. It is a unique, dense book, borne of an unrelenting fascination with a city that resides paradoxically in both the past and the present. Drawing together disparate ideas, he examines the fabric of the capital, tracing threads that encompass politics, art, mysticism, conspiracy, literature and religion. Sinclair moves through physical and cultural boundaries, skirting the fringes and engaging with peripheral but perhaps visionary figures as well as identifying forgotten architectural remnants and apparent anomalies in a vast urban sprawl. The London he presents is powerful, provocative and disturbing - through the activities of its inhabitants the city is able to assume such human characteristics. Befitting his background in psychogeography, Sinclair's narrative is shaped through the routes he walks in the city; accompanied by photographer Marc Atkins, he chronicles the dark underbelly of modern urban life.
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on 15 September 2007
the subject is less than serious, and it's a clear reference to the fact that reading this book was really hard, also because I am not a native speaker of english and also because I lack the knowledge of "london" facts.
the subject also refers to the density of information, facts and knowledge on London (and not just london), that this book contains.
it's not been easy to read this book and it's not been easy to appreciate it. often I felt I was about to rule it out as a sort of english Umberto Eco (an intellectual showing off his encyclopedic knowledge of London).
but there is something genuine about Iain Sinclair, and it helped seeing him at a reading at the RFH to have a feeling of someone that is the opposite of a Umberto Eco: a down to earth person.
sometimes you have to let go, let the flow of information get lost in the short term memory; sometimes one has to stop and go back reread, take a note, find a post-it to mark the page, or perhaps even get the shoes, leave the comfort of a sunday read on the couch and venture to a part of London which is not necessarily safe or the best to be (that's in fact another problem: reading this book 12 years down the line doesn't help, because some of the london described by Iain Sinclair no longer exists or it has changed dramatically).
but this is hardly a book calling for a real walk around london: this book is about a long trip deep down in the soul of the city, in an invisible layer where an invisible network connects points , buildings, facts, people who are no longer there, or are not to be seen. THis is a "trip of the mind", into a twilight zone of things that escape the day to day reality.
or it's a period story, telling of people who were coming of age in the recent past, directors, artists, people living on the edge of everything, and how those people interacted, how they crashed, how they delivered their products.
finally, me being italian, I couldn't but appreciate the space given to Antonioni (although it really feels like Iain Sinclair tries to regain some english control of that italian feature), and to his movie that has become so iconic about London.
Now the 400 page book that has been my friend for nearly 7 weeks, lies on the table in front of me full of postit , full of notes, and I wonder if I should go back to it and start all over again, or leave it and move on to the next venture: the orbital!
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on 7 May 1999
This book is of interest to anyone who has ever lived in London. Using mainly intuition, Sinclair takes us on a psychogeographical open-top bus journey down the city's darker alleys, parks and thoroughfares. (In)famous Londoners are deconstructed. My only gripe would be the lack of referencing to Dickens, who has been there before, and knew all about it.
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