Wednesday, 30 November 2016

An Unreliable Guide to London by Various / Kit Caless

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

If you ever thought of London as one sprawling city, Influx Press’s Unreliable Guide will disabuse you.

Each one of these stories in set in a specific area of London. Taken together, they create the impression, not of an undifferentiated metropolis but a patchwork of neighbourhoods, each with its own character, instantly recognisable to those who come from its streets.

The authors have found different ways to play with the notion of an ‘unreliable guide.’ Some seek to capture the essence of place as known only to its residents. Others, like Eley Willams’ ‘In Pursuit of the Swan at Brentford Ait' – which might have been written by a 21st Century incarnation of Jerome K Jerome – tease us with the notion of what is real and what is not.

Still others depart from reality altogether. Will Wiles’s ‘Notes on the London Housing Crisis’ is an alt-hist vision of how London could have been. Noo Saro-Wiwa’s’s ‘Soft on the Inside’ is reminiscent of Andre Alexis’s Giller Prize-winning apologue, Fifteen Dogs, while Irenosen Okojie plunges us into a vision that marries Hieronymous Bosch with Salvador Dali.

Memories play an important role. Stephanie Victoire’s ‘Nightingale Lane’ distils Clapham South from recollections of an old soldier from Mauritius. Tim Wells’ ‘Heavy Manners’ captures Dalston through the record shops of his youth. The narrator of Koye Oyedeji’s ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ challenges the version of their personal history spun by his now-famous boyhood friend.

Others brush up against contemporary news. In Courttia Newlands’ ‘The Secret Life of Little Wormwood Scrubs’, a young jogger runs past an object that the next day will make the headlines. George F’s ‘Mother Blackcap’s Revenge’ describes a glorious fightback by the LGBT community against the gentrification of Camden.

Nor does the anthology ignore London’s less romantic corners – stories are spun from the unlikely locations of PC World at Staples Corner and the car park at Leyton Mills Retail Park.

Two of my favourites – Stephen Thompson’s ‘The Arches’ and Yvvette Edwards’ ‘Warm and Toastie’ – disclose hidden acts of practical kindness that belie the notion that London is a city of unfeeling anonymity.

At the end of the book, each author recommends three of their own favourite London reads – a further treasure trove of writing to delve into if you want to explore London through its stories.

This anthology may be, as the cover insists, "Bad Advice. Limited Scope. No Practical Use." But it reveals London as lived, loved and (sometimes) loathed by Londoners themselves.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Love Across a Broken Map by the Whole Kahani;

Avoid if you dislike: Short story anthologies the jump from one style of story to another

Perfect Accompaniment: Your favourite London street food

Genre: Short Stories, London fiction, Anthology

Available from Amazon

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