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Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London Paperback – October, 1998

3.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Ever listened to a madman rant? Often, buried somewhere in his monologue, there's an idea that is true glittering brilliance. Perhaps you will listen for hours trying to catch another strand of his unusual logic. Or perhaps you will shrug your shoulders and walk away. Reading Iain Sinclair is like that. The idea behind Lights Out for the Territory: Nine Excursions in the Secret History of London at its most mundane level--and this book has many levels woven into its 386 dense, perplexing pages--is to reflect London by exploring its shadows: its streets, its graffiti, its anachronisms, its forgotten geniuses, and its subcultural characters. But readers, at least readers not from London, are scarcely taken by the hand on a stroll through the city. Instead, they are pushed and pulled, yanked and tossed, given little explanation of what they're reading about or why. More often, Lights Out feels like a high-speed ride in a stolen car--images recklessly thrown before you, then knocked over by sheer velocity as you pass, pedestrians run over before you've met them--and all the while you never know where you are, since sites, characters, and references are rarely set up or explained.

Instead of mapping out London, its secrets, and hidden characters, Sinclair muddles the picture, leaving this image of London impenetrable except to scholars or those with free months to muck through this unbridled slop. Is it the use of peculiar British words, the liberal tossing of obscure references, or Sinclair's vastly brilliant mind that makes this book so unknowable? Whatever the reason, expect writing that bewilders, such as this chapter beginning: "The saturnine, widdershins excursion of Alan Moore's anti-solar mystagogue, Sir William Gull, as revealed in Chapter Four of the graphic novel, From Hell, begins, traditionally enough, with Boadicea...." Judging from cover blurbs, the British press loves this book. But for all its hype and glowing praise, it's hard to see why. --Melissa Rossi


...when Sinclair stretches himself, he gives the reader the same remarkable sense that "in Elizabethan London it was possible to meet everybody, walk everywhere, be in touch with all human knowledge," which is rare indeed in our time. -- The New York Times Book Review, Michael Hofmann

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 386 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (October 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862070091
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862070097
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,199,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Lights Out for the Territory is a dense reading of 90's London. More informative than a dozen tourguides, it follows the author's wanderings as he inscribes his path on the urban landscape, while reading the signs and people and stories encountered on the way. It captures that simultaneous feeling of madness, magic and decay, of history and secrets just beyond your reach, that comprise a goodly percentage my antipodean memories of London living. It traverses the mysterious and the banal, art and death, Howard Marks and Frankie Fraser. Lets hope there will be a sequel. Read and enjoy.
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Format: Paperback
Angela Carter, M.John Harrison, Peter Ackroyd, Michael Moorcock -- and Iain Sinclair. All of them have made it their business to investigate the myths and apocrypha which they believe are the psychic structure of London. Whether it's Carter's Wise Children,Harrison's Travel Arrangements, Moorcock's King of the City or Ackroyd's Dan Leno, they all display the same obsessions. What's remarkable is that all are very different. Sinclair's is the only book which is factual, but it fits so smoothly into fiction like Downriver and Radon Daughters that sometimes you can hardly tell. There is an intellectual rigour, an original eye, a beautiful poet's precision -- and the low-down on some high life characters. I can't recommend this wonderful, rich book enough. Great value, too!
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Format: Paperback
This book is of interest to anyone who has ever lived in London. Using mainly intuition, Sinclair takes us on a psychogeographical open-top bus journey down the city's darker alleys, parks and thoroughfares. (In)famous Londoners are deconstructed. My only gripe would be the lack of referencing to Dickens, who has been there before, and knew all about it.
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Format: Paperback
What can you say about someone who pokes every eye including his own? In its relentless pursuit of that English national pastime, sneering, this dense thicket of a book encapsulates Wilde's definition of a cynic. Targets range from the Krays to Lord Archer through Thatcher (of course) and anyone else with the temerity to pass before Sinclair's broadcast gaze, including himself. A combination of unremitting carping and abstruse referencing can be tedious, and Lights Out lays out deserts of tedium. But they're nearly worth negotiating for the jewels that come out of them, because Sinclair's obviously no idiot and his hot-and-cold mind can produce gems. He has the uncanny ability to conjure up a scene without describing it in detail, whether it be London's back alleys or the view from Archer's window, pocket-parks or tidewater filth. By the end of the book you feel as if you've spent the longest evening of your life in a pub with an intelligent, but increasingly drunk, companion. As the evening wears on the conversation becomes one-sided, disconnected and relevant only to the speaker. You're glad when he finally runs out of steam and goes home, but the next day you warmly recall the brighter parts of the evening. Melissa Rossi's review has it almost right except for one important thing: I have to believe Sinclair got a huge laugh out of the slavishly positive reviews his book received from British critics. If not, if he takes himself as unreservedly seriously as they do, he's setting himself up for a pole-axing from the next Sinclair to come along.
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