Mare Street, Albion Square, The Triangle, Dalston Junction, De Beauvoir Road, The German Hospital, The Homerton Hospital, the Laburnum Road school, the canal. I jotted those names down just as they came into my head. Possibly a word count would find them to be the most used words in the book. In spite of the wraparound map cover and the map inserted loosely into the dustwrapper flap this book is neither a guide to Hackney nor a topographical study. Rather, Sinclair, in his idiosyncratic way, is trying to discover the secret of Hackney; what makes it tick. This is almost a life’s work for him; tramping the streets, filming, taping interviews, creating a mental map which reaches below the pavements and into the past. He finds bizarre connections between random events years apart and between people and objects; there is no such thing as coincidence. ‘Had lived. Lives. Once there, always there: the traces.’ You will find this idea that certain places are doomed to a repetition of events (like murder) in Peter Ackroyd’s work as well. Weird? Definitely.
I found this book in the fiction section of the library and it’s supposed to be ‘fictional non-fiction’. The places are real, as are most of the characters, including the author’s wife and children, so how much is he making up? There’s no index: it must be fiction. Like Lights Out for the Territory (which *is* listed as non-fiction) it rambles around topics which possess him: history, memory, change; books (Driff appears again); the evils of authority. Some of this comes over as grumpy old man: Hackney Council, Tony Blair and the Olympic Village scheme all come under frequent attack and quite right, too. And did those feet? Sinclair tracks Blake, Conrad, Jean-Luc Godard and many others: and wonders.
Sinclair’s style can be opaque; he is fond of obscure references and allusions, uncommon words. He nails himself rather neatly here, writing about a film which somebody made for The Late Show: ‘a triumph of collaged impenetrability: the visual equivalent, so it was thought, of my writing.’ Should a writer make these demands of the reader? This one complains (about film, not books) of ‘the failure to engage with difficulty, the infantile demand for instant access.’ Possibly Sinclair doesn’t regard his own books as difficult to read; if he does, there’s an arrogance there. So, woss 'e on abaht? I’ve nearly finished the book now and my conclusion is that THE BOOK IS ABOUT WRITING THE BOOK: part diary (how to cope with rats, the council, criminals); part transcript (all those interviews with residents past and present); all about a man who lives in Hackney.