Think you know London? ‘Sure’, I hear you say. There’s Buckingham Palace, the Royal Parks, Greenwich meridian and the Cutty Sark. Swanky shopping up West, cockney charm down East, Soho for the bohemian and Brixton for the old new guard, as well as new old guard. And of course, that’s a good starter-for-ten; a bird’s eye view of the city. But swoop down low, lower still – at street-level, things begin to look, sound and smell different. Keep on going, bending, shrinking, morphing… to cross the Rubicon to a cockroach-level view of the world, you either need to live in Alice’s Wonderland, or read the right fiction. Cue An Unreliable Guide to London, whose remit is not to inform and educate, but rather to disembowel England’s capital city, and inspect her steaming guts. Such irreverence will not sit comfortably with some, but consider this – can you really claim to know Hanwell Green, without the knowledge that:
‘…in 2014, the gravel deposits on the southern borders of Brent increased in size, and flowerings of yellow broom on the banks also proliferated, which in turn inspired a spate of enthusiastic daytime couplings by younger Hanwell residents … The copulating couples, it seemed, considered two drowned girls – who went missing here in 1912 – their patron saints, and dutifully whitened the small cross carved into the canal path in their honour, before fucking wildly in the grass and flowers…’
And to read of the spiritual graveyard that is Staples Corner, from one who has stared death in the eye whilst in the PC World there, is nothing less than a modern-day fable. And what better way is there to get under the skin of a place?
Much here is ‘experimental’, and/or at the crossroads between fiction and non-fiction. Not everything will suit one’s palette but much, dare I say most of the contributions, will hit the spot for lovers of all things contemporary. There’s also huge variation – in style, in setting, and in rhythm. Critical to any strong collection are not the one or two standout pieces, but rather, variety – works that contrast, that exhibit uniqueness among the crowd, and yet remain loosely coupled. And that’s precisely what An Unreliable Guide to London delivers: stories about geography, landmarks, place and people. Here you will find London for the hoi polloi, as well as gaining access to the sort of establishment where future Prime Ministers perform sex acts on dead pigs. Allegedly… In this wide open space, the kaleidoscope is for all to see: ghetto London, well-heeled London, black London, queer London.
Any Cop?: An Unreliable Guide to London is acerbic, irreverent but affectionate. And from another perspective, it’s also an ode – a collection of love letters to a place that every strand of humanity can call ‘home’. A notion that this anthology, perhaps unintentionally, captures beautifully.