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Iain Sinclair

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  • Iain Sinclair

    Anyone out there got any thoughts on Iain Sinclair? He's often considered as part of a triad of "London writers" along with Michael Moorcock and Peter Ackroyd. I would say he's the least accessible of the three, but his work is very intriguing.

    I read "Rodinsky's Room" some time back, which he co-wrote with an artist, Rachel Lichenstein, exploring the history of migration and identity in the Jewish East End by tracing the fate of the missing occupant of the room in question. This is an evocative and fascinating book for anyone interested in the city's past.

    I've just finished "White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings", which is a sort of examination of the psychic significance of Jack the Ripper, among other things. Not for anyone over-addicted to narrative. I kept reminding myself not to worry about trying to follow the story, but to read it in the same way as I would read poetry such "The Wasteland" or David Jones' "Anathemata".

    "Downriver" and "Radon Daughters" are sitting on my shelf ready to follow. The latter concerns the discovery of an unpublished William Hope Hodgson manuscript! I might read something a bit lighter first, though.

    Anyway, I'd be particularly interested to know what people make of "White Chappel". After reading that I tend to think of Ackroyd as "Sinclair-lite", as IS's book reminded me a bit of "Hawksmoor" or "Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem", but is far more dense, allusive and gnomic.

    On the negative side, I wonder if Sinclair is a little bit too impressed with the sound of his own prose sometimes, and whether this is the birth of an "alternative" heritage industry... Still, good stuff overall.
    \"...an ape reft of his tail, and grown rusty at climbing, who yet feels himself to be a symbol and the frail representative of Omnipotence in a place that is not home.\" James Branch Cabell

  • #2
    Lights Out for the Territory is all I've read, and while I found it heavy going, there were big chunks which were reminiscent of MM's ramblings (in the nicest way).
    \"Killing me won\'t bring back your apples!\"

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    • #3
      A really poignant video piece, from Iain Sinclair, about Hackney in London. I know area fairly well, although I lived further East. I used to work in a furniture factory, near the old Matchbox toy factory, or was it the Triang Hornby place?

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/vide...-iain-sinclair
      Last edited by Pietro_Mercurios; 03-02-2009, 11:11 PM.

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      • #4
        Sorry to not build at all on PM's point. However...

        I tried to read Sinclair several years ago, but found it a little impenetrable. I felt like I was reading words that didn't quite add up to anything else. Then, like MikeyC mentioned all those years ago, I just let myself just go with it. Consequently, I quite enjoyed White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings. It is unlike nearly anything else I have ever read, despite the familiarity of the ripper stories. I especially appreciate how much of it involves a seedy underworld that book dealers can navigate, sometimes quite freely.

        As an aside, I read it shortly after re-reading Mike's King of the City. While I've never visited London, my mind certainly has in interesting picture of it.

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        • #5
          I've got a stack of 'Taffy' Sinclair's books waiting to be read including Lud Heat/Suicide Bridge, White Chapell..., Landor's Tower and London Orbital as well as London: City of Disappearances (to which Mike made numerous contributions). I'm looking for copies of Lights Out for the Territory, Edge of the Orison and Downriver to add to that stack.

          Considering Sinclair's background in poetry (following in a Welsh bardic tradition?) I do wonder whether his prose possibly sounds better than it reads.
          _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
          _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
          _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
          _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

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          • #6
            Interesting, David. Now that you mention it, I'll bet White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings would be excellent on the radio. It might even appear to have a discernible narrative when read aloud...

            That isn't a dig on the the novel, BTW.

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            • #7
              I find a lot of books - including some of Mike's incidentally (esp. the Pyat novels) - are immeasurably improved by being read aloud. Which isn't to say they're that shabby to begin with.
              _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
              _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
              _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
              _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

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              • #8
                I don't mean to take the thread too far astray, but I have to wonder if some pretty dense novels are better served by reading aloud. The mention of the Pyat novels is what made me think of this. I remember thinking that I might better work with some of the ideas if I had a narrator's voice and character's voices in my head.

                Perhaps I've revealed a little lack of imagination in my reading process right now...

                I suppose my poet friends might be able to tell me with some authority why some prose just feels more right in oral form. I also have a friend who is a children's lit specialist. Much children's lit is written specifically to be read aloud. Hmmmm... I suppose I should take advantage of my work environment. I am either going to come across as a good colleague, engaged with ideas from their field or an idiot who clearly doesn't recognize the most fundamental aspects of the work that defines their professional life. Either way, David, you will get some credit.

                I will couch the conversation in Sinclair as a poet/novelist.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Doc View Post
                  I don't mean to take the thread too far astray, but I have to wonder if some pretty dense novels are better served by reading aloud. The mention of the Pyat novels is what made me think of this. I remember thinking that I might better work with some of the ideas if I had a narrator's voice and character's voices in my head.
                  I think it depends upon on the quality of your audio memory. Mine is awful! If an audiobook is very linear then I'm okay, but the ability to skip back and forth to clarify when reading is invaluable and as far as I can tell impossible to archive in an audio format. Of course if you are literally reading it aloud yourself or having I read to you then this need not be a problem... For me the Pyat books would probably work quite well in audio as they read like a big old rant anyway, but when I read Pyat I can hear him in my head quite clearly anyway. The other major problem with audio if that you are at the mercy of the narrator. A good or bad narator can vastly change your perception of a work.

                  Back on topic: I've not yet read any Iain Sinclair, although i have a couple of his books on my shelves, but his latest book about Hackney was serialised on Radio 4 last week and was pretty interesting and worked very well in an audio form, although in fairness memoirs usually do.
                  forum

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                  • #10
                    I like his early stuff and remember being blown away by White Chappell when it first came out. I like Downriver too, but haven't enjoyed his stuff after that much, which says more about me than him, I think. I really admire his skill and talent, but he doesn't always hit me on a gut level, which is a very subjective reaction. I'd like to see him break the 'London' mould a bit more - though he did write a crackling little introduction to a book of photographs of the Welsh valleys (the run down architectural aspects rather than the hills and tarns), which had resonance for me as that's my point of origin too.
                    2006: 100 Must Read Science Fiction Novels (5th printing 2009/Bulgarian Edition (!) due 2011).

                    2008: 100 Must Read Books For Men (2nd printing 2008)

                    2009: 100 Must Read Fantasy Novels

                    sigpic

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by The English Assassin View Post
                      For me the Pyat books would probably work quite well in audio as they read like a big old rant anyway, but when I read Pyat I can hear him in my head quite clearly anyway.
                      Well said. I like recasting my memories of the Pyat books as one long rant from Max. That would surely make his voice far clearer and more distinct for me. Although I am a little unsure if his is the particular voice I want to hear in my head so clearly.


                      Originally posted by The English Assassin View Post
                      The other major problem with audio if that you are at the mercy of the narrator. A good or bad narator can vastly change your perception of a work.
                      Can't disagree with that, either. I drove from Ohio to Texas with a well narrated audiobook of a relatively bad novel, which helped pass the time so well. That was my first experience with audiobooks, and I thought all were like that. The audiobook on my next road trip lasted less than 35 minutes in my CD player because the narrator was completely annoying, and not at all how I imagined the novel, which was actually one of my favorites.

                      And I've disrupted the thread. Again...

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Stephen_E_Andrews View Post
                        I really admire his skill and talent, but he doesn't always hit me on a gut level, which is a very subjective reaction. I'd like to see him break the 'London' mould a bit more -
                        I have to wonder if part of his resonance stems from writing about London. Many authors seem to find their voice in places. For example, dozens of New York writers cannot write convincingly or interestingly about anything else. I wonder how effective Sinclair is "out of" London. Hmmm.

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                        • #13
                          You can hear Mike 'as Pyat' reading Chapter 3 of TVoR in this radio interview (about 3m 30s in iirc).
                          _"For an eternity Allard was alone in an icy limbo where all the colours were bright and sharp and comfortless.
                          _For another eternity Allard swam through seas without end, all green and cool and deep, where distorted creatures drifted, sometimes attacking him.
                          _And then, at last, he had reached the real world – the world he had created, where he was God and could create or destroy whatever he wished.
                          _He was supremely powerful. He told planets to destroy themselves, and they did. He created suns. Beautiful women flocked to be his. Of all men, he was the mightiest. Of all gods, he was the greatest."

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                          • #14
                            Thanks, David!

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