Downriver, by Iain Sinclair

Everything you do eventually comes to a stage at which there is no turning back. Running across a busy road or having a go at the staff in the Abbey National, you are committed – it is the point of no return. Throughout this book I felt that the start of every chapter was that point, I’ve started so I have to go on – There’s no turning back now.

Downriver is a series of loosely related stories written in a hectic dream like narrative. The decoration for the basic ideas come from the rawest parts of the south east – toothless pubs, mind numbing suburbia, mud, the Isle of Sheepy. Inspiration from these places is combined convincingly with the superficial world of corporate broadcasting. This in particular works to brilliant effect. However this chaotic approach to story telling left me confused at every turn, thinking to myself that every new story would give some coherence to it as a whole, and that eventually it would all fall into place.

In a way it did – sort of. Although I couldn’t help asking myself where that all important point of no return was. Not that it mattered as I knew that the only thing stopping me finishing it would be lobbing it off Blackfriars bridge after a particularly difficult bit.

There is no way round the fact that I did find this heavy going, or if you like, it was over my head. However the writing is strangely addictive, as is the portrayal of London as an anarchic and lawless pit of sweat and despair. Sinclair’s fascination with the Thames estuary continued from this book to London Orbital almost ten years later. For me, these were the high points of both books – the mud, foreign shipping, legends, and death.

The lunacy of it all leaves me wondering what goes on in the head of someone who writes a book like this. There is genius in madness and it makes for good reading.

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