Sinclair McKay

Finally tired of London

Appalled by the capital’s dissolving identity, even Iain Sinclair is moving out. Should the rest of London follow?

Iain Sinclair is leaving London — like the croakiest of the ravens taking flight from the Tower. It is a proper blow: across five decades, he has been prowling the streets, part poet, part satirist, part prophet. Very few authors have fashioned a London more real than the one we see: Dickens, Conan Doyle, Patrick Hamilton, Angela Carter. Sinclair is firmly among them. While his contemporary Peter Ackroyd understands London as a city of eternally recurring patterns and echoes, Sinclair sees something more malign and gangrenous: forces that endlessly conspire to bend perception and bleach the streets of their real meaning.

Oh: and he is also extremely funny. Here in this brilliant, crackling series of final walks through the London landscape, he finds the dissolving identity of the city increasingly disconcerting. Visitors to the boutiques of once-sparse Shoreditch, arriving by London Overground, are observed flintily. ‘It was party time for cross-town transients, intersex retail vamps delivered by the Ginger Line,’ writes Sinclair. ‘High end schmutter pits offered unticketed minimalist stock — two shirts, one cardigan — on naked tables for a business-class customs inspection.’

His account of a swim in an exquisite blue infinity pool in a hotel high up in the Shard, looking down on the city, is wonderfully uneasy (uncalled-for flashbacks to 1950s council bath ‘floating impurities’ — now he is the impurity). He is certainly not curmudgeonly about it — ‘this is the place to sell your soul’ — but the invasive nature of this building on the skyline is seriously aggressive. ‘The Shard is an implanted flaw in the eye. It moves as we move, available to dominate every London entry point.’ More, this ‘ice dagger’ is ‘the latest clone, pushed to the point of absurdity’ of the white stone pyramid in the churchyard of Hawksmoor’s St Anne’s.

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