Iain Sinclair

hbk: Paladin, UK, 1991
pbk: Paladin, UK, 1992

ISBN 0-586-09074-6 (UK hbk),,, 0-586-08791-5 (UK pbk)

novel, slipstream, experimental, gothic

Winner of the 1992 Encore Award for the Year's Best Second Novel. Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

Downriver is a surreal A-Z of London. It consists of 12 linked journeys by foot, train, boat, car and submarine through a strangely altered capital.

The narrator, Iain Sinclair, experiences a bizarre set of encounters with deranged book collectors, crazy bookdealers, obsessive artists, Aboriginal cricketers, a victim of Jack the Ripper, Sir Alec Guinness, the physicist Stephen Hawking, a power-crazed female Prime Minister (in her 5th term of office) and an illusory nurse and prostitute, Edith Cadiz.

But the book's key character is the city itself. Sinclair worked quickly to produce a map of territory that was being destroyed and re-invented before his eyes. In 1992 he discussed Downriver in the context of the redevelopment of East London in a Channel 4 documentary, Running Down the Mountain :

"The cabalistic machinations of Money and Capital suddenly began to take over the landscape itself ... You could go back to buildings and they'd be gone within a week - so I became almost frantic to write it down ... I think what has to be retrieved are the eternal qualities of the courage in the lives of the people who suffered hugely in these places, under terrible conditions ... The river itself was the thing that was up for grabs ... I wanted it too - I wanted it as an agent of renewal and a source of inspiration." --Iain Sinclair.

The more lyrical chapters of Downriver constitute an elegy for a soon to be lost London, and a celebration of the spirit of those who lived there. Other segments are harder-edged, more satirical: there are segments ridiculing the greed of politicians, the business community and career journalists.

The most obviously comic sections concern Sinclair's fictional Prime Minister, "The Widow", who is in her 5th term of government after making her position unassailable. One-party state, one-woman party. One episode - an outstanding example of the return of Victorian Values - involves the dealings of a planning committee for a grandiose memorial to the PM's late consort.

Sinclair has said that the demise of Margaret Thatcher didn't invalidate Downriver as a prophetic text: the point of prophecy isn't mere prediction, it can also be to dare the worst to happen and, thus, prevent it.

In Sinclair's fevered dreams, the Isle of Dogs becomes the Isle of Doges (Vat City Plc), a malevolent megacity, a Satanic Vatican where capital is the new God: Sinclair gives us the ultimate metaphor for the way the avarice of planners, politicians and multinational companies is destroying London as a place to live.

Downriver is haunted by the ghosts of Conrad, Dickens and - of course - Blake. But above the clamour of these illustrious voices, the reader hears the unmistakable tones of Iain Sinclair: visionary, thriller writer and comedian.

*note: Commentary by Andrew Hedgecock.

"Yet another confirmation of the fact that Iain Sinclair is the most inventive novelist of his generation." --Peter Ackroyd.

"Crazy, dangerous, prophetic... The Thames runs through Downriver like a great, wet wound. This is a work of conspicuous and glorious ill-humour. Something is happening in this text that makes it necessary to go on." --Angela Carter.

"If, in these hard times, you are going to buy one novel, Downriver looks like being the most rewarding work you'll find this year." --Michael Moorcock.

"The crowded narrative of Downriver has the feel of a ghostly carress. To read it is to share Sinclair's dusty obsessions: with murderers and their victims, with churches and their pagan auras, with the arcane rituals of cricket and secondhand bookselling." --Nick Kimberley (in City Limits ).

"It is one of those idiosyncratic texts that revivify the language." --Judy Cooke (in The Guardian ).

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Of Related Interest

  • Gothic
  • Poetry
  • Postmodern
  • Slipstream

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    Page compiled and supplied by Andrew Hedgecock