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Landor's Tower [Paperback]

Iain Sinclair
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 28 2002
The narrator is accused of one of the murders that Kaporal is researching. Incarcerated in an asylum on the River Usk, long suppressed memories of his childhood in Wales return to haunt him.

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From Publishers Weekly

British writer Sinclair is best known on this side of the Atlantic for two cultishly popular works of nonfiction Lights Out for the Territory, a virtuosic London travel narrative, and Rodinsky's Room (with Rachel Lichtenstein), the history of an obscure Jewish scholar. This is Sinclair's U.S. fiction debut, and it is as distinctive as his inimitable nonfiction, distinguished by the same vital, labyrinthine prose. The novel's multiple plots are rooted in the plight of Norton, an overcommitted London poet and general hack, assigned to write a study of the half-forgotten Victorian writer, Walter Savage Landor. Since Landor attempted a utopian experiment in Llanthony, Wales, Norton makes an investigative journey there. Meanwhile, he is barraged with tapes from an investigator named Kaporal, who is trying to find the key to the mystery of Jeremy Thorpe, a real-life '70s Liberal leader who was disgraced when he was accused of conspiring to murder his lover, a male model. After Norton has a brief affair with a bookstore owner named Prudence, who disappears, he himself is apprehended by the police for Prudence's murder. Norton doesn't recognize the victim as Prudence, though he does recognize the details of the murder, which imitates a bootleg snuff film starring Britt Ekland and various political worthies shown to him by Kaporal. Finally, the Thorpe conspiracy somehow begins to dovetail with a slew of suspicious suicides in the West Country in the '80s. Sinclair is reminiscent of Pynchon in both his encyclopedic set of references and his discomfort with the palliative function of plot. Rather than resolving the complications of his story, Sinclair is determined to ramify them until they form a dense counterworld of memory and chance. B&w illus. (Sept.)Forecast: It remains to be seen whether Sinclair's fiction will hit the same nerve as his nonfiction, but Sinclair's U.S. profile will undoubtedly rise upon publication of Landor's Tower. Major review attention may safely be expected, and Granta is sending the author on a U.S. tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

British literary biographer Peter Ackroyd has called Sinclair (Lights Out for the Territory: Nine Excursions in the Secret History of London) most inventive; he is also relentlessly self-referential and wildly allusive. In his latest, Sinclair simultaneously plays the roles of author and narrator critiquing his own fiction. The narrator of this tale is writing a fictional version if the life of volatile poet Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), author of Imaginary Conversations of Literary Men and Statesmen. Landor's life is bracketed by earlier artists (twins Thomas and Henry Vaughan) and later ones (Robert Frank, David Jones), as well as by politician Jeremy Thorpe. These figures are all related to the bleak landscape of the Wales/England border, where 25 suicides in England's defense industry have recently happened. Provocative ideas regarding the permeability of time can be teased out of these stories, but not without difficulty. Occasional blasts of outrageous humor enliven; biographies of the myriad figures in this Byzantine tale are appended. Recommended for libraries whose readers are familiar with Sinclair's earlier work and those who wish to immerse themselves in postmodernism.Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A difficult read Jan. 1 2002
Format:Hardcover
It contains writing good enough to merit five stars but the confused plot makes it tough to read through. It helps to have read a few of the reviews first. Skipping to page 297 and reading the last part of the book first also makes it more understandable. Get some maps of South Wales and South-West England and then you're almost ready to read the book. You may notice that the the reviews have different versions of what it's about. I would say it's mainly about people trying to establish communes in Wales, and perhaps about the fate of utopian/religious communities in general and the relation between Wales and England. The main plot, told in the first person it about the author travelling from London to Hay-on Wye, on the Welsh border, which is itself a kind of commune, a town of used bookstores, to research the life of Walter Savage Landor. He has an affair with a woman called Prudence. He returns to london, and then learns that his father, a doctor in Wales, has died, and has to go back to Wales. On the way back he is falsely accused of having murdered Prudence and then incarcerated in a mental hospital. In the final chapters (which are more coherent) he is restored to sanity and there are reminiscnces of his boyhood in Wales.
The characters Dryfeld and Silverfish, the crooked bookdealers, who are travelling from London to Hay on Wye in the first chapters, later disappear from the book. The Kaporal plot is entirely separate and is mainly told in extracts from Kaporal's tapes (This part is also first person, so there are two separate first person narrators). These are partially explained after page 345 in "Files Recovered from Kaporal's Caravan"
It's full of literary allusions, especially to Anglo-Welsh writers who lived in the border area.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of our best living writers Jan. 10 2002
Format:Hardcover
Iain Sinclair is without doubt one of our greatest prose stylists and this is a wonderful piece of reading. It has a lot of narratives running through it but, like life, not all of them cry out of be resolved. As is usual with Sinclair, there are dozens of stories lurking just beneath the surface. This bizarre picaresque, in which the central character has truck with rogues and vagabonds of various description, is tremendously refreshng for those of us who had becom a bit bored with that most prominent strand of English fiction, which some Americans seem to think is all there is. Sinclair, Moorcock, Ackroyd, Carter. The so-called Cockney Visionaries. All are substantial writers, but Sinclair is the best of them all.
Try Downriver before this, if you get the chance. But get this now. You won't regret it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A difficult read Jan. 1 2002
By D. P. Birkett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It contains writing good enough to merit five stars but the confused plot makes it tough to read through. It helps to have read a few of the reviews first. Skipping to page 297 and reading the last part of the book first also makes it more understandable. Get some maps of South Wales and South-West England and then you're almost ready to read the book. You may notice that the the reviews have different versions of what it's about. I would say it's mainly about people trying to establish communes in Wales, and perhaps about the fate of utopian/religious communities in general and the relation between Wales and England. The main plot, told in the first person it about the author travelling from London to Hay-on Wye, on the Welsh border, which is itself a kind of commune, a town of used bookstores, to research the life of Walter Savage Landor. He has an affair with a woman called Prudence. He returns to london, and then learns that his father, a doctor in Wales, has died, and has to go back to Wales. On the way back he is falsely accused of having murdered Prudence and then incarcerated in a mental hospital. In the final chapters (which are more coherent) he is restored to sanity and there are reminiscnces of his boyhood in Wales.
The characters Dryfeld and Silverfish, the crooked bookdealers, who are travelling from London to Hay on Wye in the first chapters, later disappear from the book. The Kaporal plot is entirely separate and is mainly told in extracts from Kaporal's tapes (This part is also first person, so there are two separate first person narrators). These are partially explained after page 345 in "Files Recovered from Kaporal's Caravan"
It's full of literary allusions, especially to Anglo-Welsh writers who lived in the border area. It contains a lot of information about them but it helps if you already know who Kilvert, David Jones, Eric Gill, Father Ignatius, Henry Vaughan etc are. There are also many allusions to contemporary British writers and some of them appear under their own names, or thinly disguised, as characters.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nostalgia De La Boue Feb. 28 2010
By Daniel Myers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Right. So, here we have a narrative of sorts about a tower that was never built (only planned by a somewhat obscure literary figure, Walter Savage Landor - though perhaps the least obscure of the many authors to whom the author alludes herein) about an author planning to write a novel that it turns out he can't write. It's set in Wales- er, mostly, sort of, a bit in London too. According to the book, "Wales is the perfect locale. An hour's tramp would lead the most vacant optimist to thoughts of suicide." Thus, what we have is a wandering pilgrimage set in richly allusive, delightfully funny at times prose - prose which only someone steeped in all things obscurely literary or the omniscient cineaste (I was surprised that the reviews failed to mention how much the book owes to obscure films, lighting techniques etc.)can fully appreciate. Also, and this really cannot be overstated, we have a sort of dandyish form of what the French refer to as a nostalgia de la boue. Sinclair loves wending his way through all the contemporary muck of today's Britain in search of the muck of past, forgotten (admittedly unjustly so in many cases) poets, literary figures of all sorts, and pieces of rare filmography. - I suppose you can stop here if this sort of thing doesn't appeal to you.

But this faithful and appreciative reviewer shall trundle on. Something must be said here about the fad of "psychogeography" which Sinclair has helped to inspire. A great deal of literary London is, as I write this review, under the spell of it, due to the highly articulate proselyte and author Will Self. Unfortunately, Self, whilst an eloquent orator, simply can't write well; and I keep wondering when the English press is going to come to its senses. But the less-celebrated Sinclair is a wizard with prose:

"I trembled that first morning out in the air, the privilege of this light, with the stereophonic babble of the river, hustling against rocks, rattling against pebbles, sweeping broken branches downstream at Crickhowell. Dry red leaves caught in the fuzz of the hedge, giving it a wounded look. The gardens had been designed as shadow traps. Avenues, abandoned tennis courts, in which speckled paths appeared and disappeared, as fast-moving clouds masked the sun."

Read these deliciously falling cadences aloud. Notice how everything in Sinclair ends up "abandoned" or "wounded" or derelict or flickering out of sight. The prose is very, very rich and funny, but you have to be very well-read and cultured to laugh aloud as I did at snippets such as these:

Describing his postcoital pillow talk with Prudence:

"She really couldn't see what these new painters, the Pre-Raphaelites, were on about."

Describing the burning of Landor's estate, which had been converted into a monastery at the time:

"Most authorities agreed that the blaze, the destruction of the castle, Gormenghast revisited, was down to the drunken odd job man."

LOL- Gormenghast Revisited indeed!

I could go on with these quotes. But those who can will get the drift. Those who can't won't.
It would be very easy for me to pick apart this plotless "novel," but I have no need. Sinclair, with his pixie wit, does it already in the form of the demotic character - lots of these in the book - nicknamed "Bad News":

"What's with this three-part structure? One: lowlifes running around, getting nowhere. Two: a baggy central section investigating `place', faking at poetry, genre tricks, and a spurious narrative which proves incapable of resolution. Three: quelle surprise. A walk in the wilderness. What a cop-out, man!" p.285

Still, if you half fancy this sort of thing, as I half do, and enjoy rich allusive language, than you could do far worse than open this book and step into the muck "on a morning of treacherous, milky sunshine" or whenever, really.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More effort than entertainment for the reader Sept. 5 2005
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
You need to invest considerable time and effort to benefit from this novel. It's not a quick read, and quite dense in parts. Fans of post-modern fractured looks at Britain presumably know what they'll encounter here. Those, like myself, with less experience with the likes of not only Sinclair but Moorcock, Ackroyd, & Chris Petit (whose The Psalm Killer is a great take on the Irish Troubles in 90s Belfast) may find it a tough slog.

In parts, notably the few pages on post-Thatcher Wales and the episodes on the poet-artist David Jones in his stay with Eric Gill at Capel-y-ffin, the relatively straightforward tale telling and powerful descriptions work wonders. But the greater tale of Kaporal and his pursuit of disgraced politician Jeremy Thorpe, along with the suicides in the West Country and the mixing in of Sinclair's own Landor-ing tries at a novel and his own semi-autobiographed childhood, make for less than knockout fiction, over the course of 350 pp.

The trouble is that, as Sinclair's clever enough to incorporate (285) a character who critiques accurately Sinclair's faults as a writer, is that Sinclair seems too self-satisfied to keep on meandering in the same groove. A mish-mash of events rather than an attempt to learn from them, the ultimate laziness of Sinclair, masked as a Borgesian or Burroughian exercise in the nature of unreliable truth & fiction, seems tired and listless far too often. My three rather than two stars are credit to the effort Sinclair puts into many small details that work well, but even these fail to resonate beyond a few pages at a time.

This lack of quality control leaves lots of glintingly crafted needles among the prosy haystacks that'll prick your attention, but I wish there were so many more. Colin Tunstall's attempt to revive the utopian dream, Prudence & Annwn and the Mabinogion, the clash of pulp vs. poetry, the Eagleton quote on the literature of a subject people tending towards neologisms, shamanism, and farcical excess, the details on the Bob Dylan photo at Aust ferry (that conincidentally graces the new Scorcese Documentary on the bard): these may bolster his thesis that "endlessness is immortality" in the accumulation of facts, opinions, and observations, but I doubt if Sinclair himself will wind up among the immortals of Brit Lit.

His newly proclaimed Welsh origins caused hin, evidently, to aspire to a take-down of both the Welsh and the English, but the dreariness inherent in a plague on both houses dispirits the whole enterprise, and after hundreds of pages of inconclusive material, a wish for a more succinct and focused control over so much promising raw data may mean that I'm less trendy than the likes of Sinclair, but a story does come first, immortal or not.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of our best living writers Jan. 10 2002
By Leo Steele - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Iain Sinclair is without doubt one of our greatest prose stylists and this is a wonderful piece of reading. It has a lot of narratives running through it but, like life, not all of them cry out of be resolved. As is usual with Sinclair, there are dozens of stories lurking just beneath the surface. This bizarre picaresque, in which the central character has truck with rogues and vagabonds of various description, is tremendously refreshng for those of us who had becom a bit bored with that most prominent strand of English fiction, which some Americans seem to think is all there is. Sinclair, Moorcock, Ackroyd, Carter. The so-called Cockney Visionaries. All are substantial writers, but Sinclair is the best of them all.
Try Downriver before this, if you get the chance. But get this now. You won't regret it.
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