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Co-founder of independent publisher Influx Press (http://www.influxpress.com) and editorial assistant at Unsung Stories. Fiction reader at Ambit magazine. I write about sub-culture, landscape, psychogeography, hidden history, nature, weird fiction and more. My work appears in Unofficial Britain, Structo, The Learned Pig, The Quietus, Galley Beggar Press, Unthology and many more. I live in London.

Monday, 31 January 2011

'Bleeding London' by Geoff Nicholson

In my constant search for interesting fiction about London, the wonderful and crazy metropolis that seems to have ensnared more and more writers the more I look into it, I came across this title by Geoff Nicholson (not a writer I was familiar with) via the excellent Fictional Cities website - http://www.fictionalcities.co.uk/london.htm - which has an invaluable, if incomplete, list of excellent fiction about London. 

The novel, fairly successfully, fuses together an almost pulpy plot with the themes that characterise the work of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair. The story focuses on the character of Mick, from Sheffield, who travels down to an unfamiliar London to track the six men who he believed gang-raped his stripper girlfriend, getting to grips with the unfamiliarity of the city and hiding out in a dingy hotel somewhere in Hackney (which is curiously viewed as much rougher than it is now, and this novel was only written in 1997). 

The story expands to include the half-Japanese Judy Tanaka (who believes her body is somehow becoming London, and has an obsession of marking her map of London with every place she has ever copulated), and the tour-guide Stuart London who decides that he wishes to walk down every street in London – apparently that’s about eight thousand miles – and then writes up his experience in ‘The Walkers Diary’. He marks off every street with a black marker pen in his A-Z, hoping eventually to create a book with entirely blacked out pages.

Where Nicholson succeeds is in his depiction of London itself, accurately conveying the sheer dizzying sprawl of the place, the number of people, the bewildering array of different areas, and the weight of history. This succeeds much more than the plot itself, which does tend to lose its way somewhat toward the end of the novel, being superseded by the much more interesting extracts from ‘The Walkers Diary’, which reads as if it is some lost extract from a Stewart Home or Iain Sinclair essay. The plot merely seems to serve as a frame on which to hang all of Nicholson’s fascinations with the capital, which really is no bad thing as he writes about London with such enthusiasm and in such depth that you don’t really care that the plot doesn’t make sense.

He also seems to have a keen interest in the more seedy side of the metropolis, as the novel features a number of characters with rather unusual sexual proclivities, as well as a very memorable scene in a cottaging hotspot. 

Written with a clear love and fascination for London and a black sense of humour (something definitely missing from Ackroyd et al) ‘Bleeding London’ is an excellent addition to the already massive pile of metropolitan fiction dealing with ‘psycho-geographic’ issues, London history, and weird sex. Recommended.

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