Monday, March 15, 2010

Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report, by Iain Sinclair

On a “vernal equinox walk” around Hackney with Iain Sinclair, Will Self can find no unity or coherence. Sinclair, however, insists that E8 is an “organic entity”. Two themes (“money and cars”) are supposed to hold this book together, but in the end it looks like Self was probably right. Sinclair has lived in Hackney since 1968, gathering a wealth of material on the borough, much of which is passed through the filter of his spasmodic, jump-cut prose. There are enjoyable riffs on the Hackney Empire (with its rose-red auditorium), Kingsland Road barber shops, CCTV, gentrification (epitomised by a pre-Islington Tony Blair), the dreaded 2012 Olympics and the corruption of Hackney council. Naturally, William Blake and the Kray twins get a mention, as do Joseph Conrad, Orson Welles, Patrick Wright, Stewart Home, Chris (and Rob) Petit, and Sinclair’s wife Anna. Sinclair calls the book a “documentary fiction; where it needs to be true, it is”. But did Jayne Mansfield really open a budgerigar-fanciers’ convention in 1959? Sinclair has the press cuttings to prove it.

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