Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Ian McEwan - 'the boundless shabby tangle of London south of the river'

I enjoyed Ian McEwan's latest novel, The Children Act (2014), continuing his close observations of the life of the higher reaches of the urban middle class. While Saturday (2005) was centred around a neuro-surgeon living in Fitzrovia, this book's central character is a judge living not too far away in Gray's Inn.

If McEwan is a London novelist though, he is certainly a north London one (I believe he lives near to the Post Office Tower). And The Children Act features a terrible diss of South London - whether the character's view reflects the author's perspective, you can judge for yourself:

'She had a north Londoner's ignorance of and disdain for the boundless shabby tangle of London south of the river. Not a Tube stop to give meaning and relation to a wilderness of villages swallowed up long ago, to sad shops, to dodgy garages interspersed with dusty Edwardian houses and brutalist apartment towers, the dedicated lairs of drug gangs. The pavement crowds, adrift in alien concerns, belonged to some other, remote city, not her own. How would she know they were passing through Clapham Junction without the faded jokey sign above a boarded-up electrical store? Why make a life here?'

In defence of Clapham Junction

Obviously this description could just as easily - and probably just as unfairly - be applied to many parts of north London. As for Clapham Junction, I found myself at the station there for the first time in years last week, and thought it was a vibrant convergence point of all the currents of London life on a late Saturday afternoon. There were football fans, wedding parties, shoppers returning from the West End, people heading home from doing sports (I'd been running  cross country). I was up the junction, and it was great.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

McEwan lived and raised a family in Clapham Old Town in the early Eighties. Other notable literary inhabitants of the time included Angela Carter and Howard Jacobson.