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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Liquid City

Marc Atkins
Iain Sinclair

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To purchase Liquid City

Title: Liquid City
Author: Marc Atkins and Iain Sinclair
Genre: Non-Fiction
Written: 1999
Length: 224 pages
Availability: Liquid City - US
Liquid City - UK
Liquid City - Canada
  • A few pieces included here have been published previously, in somewhat different versions.
  • Published by Reaktion Books, as part of their Topographics series

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Our Assessment:

A- : revelatory look at London

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Kenyon Review A Winter/2001 Rod Mengham
New Statesman A 5/7/1999 Tristan Quinn
The Spectator . 12/7/1999 Andrew Barrow
TLS . 13/8/1999 Anthony Rudolf
The Village Voice A 24/8/1999 Simon Reynolds
The Washington Post A- 3/1/2000 Michele Slung

  Review Consensus:

  They like it. All are impressed, by both pictures and text.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Writer and photographer circle round each other, their prose and images recording different levels, or layers, of reality while they take it in turns to work the documentary and active strands; on some occasions, Sinclair can be seen orchestrating the photographs that Atkins will take, while at other times, it is only an image captured by Atkins that provides the necessary cue for one of Sinclair's narratives." - Rod Mengham, The Kenyon Review

  • "Liquid City is an impressive and bold act of dark necromancy. Sinclair conjures up the dead and those who have never lived as he moves between the past and the present, the real and the fictional." - Tristan Quinn, New Statesman

  • "(Liquid City) offers images of terrible, desperate beauty and the poetic, enjoyably jerky text ventures far below the picturesque surface and outside the magnetic pull of central London." - Andrew Barrow, The Spectator

  • "Guidebooks are two a penny, but readers of Liquid City will lose themselves in a fiction of reality, as if London were on the other side of the known world. Forget abroad: Sinclair talks his readers through neglected corners of this great city -- cemetery, pub, park, church and bridge." - Anthony Rudolf, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Liquid City, an addendum to Lights Out, will be an easier entry point for all but the most rugged readers, if only because the text takes a back seat to the photography of Marc Atkins (...). Atkins's pictures and Sinclair's short bursts of text (mostly sketches of the marginal literati and eccentric academics that are his friends and/or heroes) operate independently, only rarely serving as illustration/caption to each other. But the deep affinity between the pair leaps off the page." - Simon Reynolds, The Village Voice

  • "Marc Atkins' (...) witty, almost peepshow-in-reverse images do dominate its pages. But Sinclair's recent, larger fame makes that act of name placement just a generous gesture, really, since it is sure to be his fans the book will attract. Though the two friends share a unified vision, without the spark of Sinclair's prose the book would never fully flame into life." - Michelle Slung, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Perpetually perambulating Iain Sinclair walks farther and deeper into and through London than most would imagine was even possible. The city seems his inspiration and is often the dominant character and characteristic of his books. Walking-companion Marc Atkins' striking photographs are familiar from some of Sinclair's previous books; in Liquid City they are a much more prominent presence, less visual companion-pieces or illustrations than an actual counterpart to Sinclair's texts.
       Atkins and Sinclair walk all about. Much of Liquid City centers around the river Thames, walked "from the Isle of Grain to Teddington." Other areas also draw them: the bookish haunts of a lost London literati, David Rodinsky's room, and some better-known parts of the city (that in the photographs nevertheless often seem un-familiar vistas on first -- or especially second -- glance).
       Sinclair's pieces point the way. Sinclair presents small vignettes of his London, in a variety of guises. There are personal portraits: he introduces Atkins, and also offers brief homages to personalities as varied as Kathy Acker, book-runner Martin Stone (admired by Sinclair for cannily inspiring (rather than writing) fictions: "He punted at mythical immortality, but let some other bugger do the work."), Peter Ackroyd and Michael Moorcock. There are a few poems, and various short pieces -- a few paragraphs about London Stone or a specific Atkins photograph (such as John Bunyan's effigy) -- as well as a number of ruminations about the odds and ends of London encountered.
       Between the pieces are the many Atkins photographs. Some of the texts refer to specific ones, but the photographs also go further than the texts themselves, exploring and offering additional material. Sinclair and Atkins manage to achieve the rarest interplay between the two parts of the book, as both text and photographs feed off each other. Sinclair's text is not merely descriptive, and Atkins' photographs are not merely illustrative. The effect is an impressive one.
       As one expects from Sinclair, he leads the reader across unfamiliar terrain. It is London, but not as most know it. Territories are explored (physical, artistic, commercial -- neighborhoods, authors' lairs, the book-selling world): Sinclair exposes them, briefly shining some light on them but leaving them basically undisturbed. He is an observer, always walking (to places, but at the same time always also away from them). He records his impressions as they come to him -- taking advantage of the moments like Atkins does with his photographs. Some of the texts are posed -- questions set, meetings arranged, conditions created -- but the results often still seem as surprising and unexpected as any chance encounter. (The same can be said of the photographs.)
       Sinclair himself is always a presence, emphasized in a number of the photographs. Atkins, too, is more fleshed out (in Sinclair's pieces, and in some of the photographs -- if only as a shadow). The role of the observer and the question of what is being captured runs throughout the book, though without either artist forcing any conclusions.
       Atkins' photographs, as varied in approach and subject matter as Sinclair's writing, could stand on their own. Sinclair's small pieces could survive in any context. Together, however, they are more than the sum of their parts, successfully fused in this impressive volume. Recommended.

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Liquid City: Reviews: Iain Sinclair: Marc Atkins: Other books by Iain Sinclair under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Travel-related books under review

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About the Authors:

       Iain Sinclair is a London author, born in 1943, who has written several collections of poetry, as well as a number of novels and documentary works.

       Marc Atkins is a photographer who has collaborated with Iain Sinclair on a number of projects.

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