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.