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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Dining on Stones

Iain Sinclair

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Dining on Stones

Title: Dining on Stones
Author: Iain Sinclair
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 449 pages
Availability: Dining on Stones - UK
Dining on Stones - Canada
  • or, The Middle Ground

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Our Assessment:

A- : mesmerizing, stupefying

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph . 19/4/2004 Mark Sanderson
The Guardian . 1/5/2004 Michael Moorcock
The Independent . 23/4/2004 Jay Merrick
Independent on Sunday . 25/4/2004 Ben Thompson
London Rev. of Books . 18/11/2004 Caroline Maclean
New Statesman . 24/5/2004 Hugo Barnacle
The Observer . 18/4/2004 Jonathan Heawood
Sunday Telegraph A 18/4/2004 Sinclair McKay
TLS . 23/4/2004 Michael Caines

  Review Consensus:

  Fairly typical Sinclair, for better and worse

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dining on Stones is so allusive and complex that it sometimes makes the head spin (...) but Sinclair, like Conrad, knows how to spin a good yarn as well and, in spite of the intertextuality, no one else could have written it." - Mark Sanderson, Daily Telegraph

  • "It's fair to say that Sinclair is pretty free of plot, though not story. The page-turning momentum of Dining on Stones is carried on language, character, curiosity; the rhythms and images form a dream narrative seen through a benignly glinting viewfinder. Sinclair lets his characters make use of the maps he drew so thoroughly in previous non-fiction to embark on journeys both sinister and hilarious" - Michael Moorcock, The Guardian

  • "One uses the word "narrative" warily. Sinclair has delivered a story, but following it requires an appetite for literary trig points, cultural landmarks, and signs and marks that begin to glow oddly like half-developed images in his eerie darkroom. The novel's synchromesh is put to the test. Three or four "authors" are one thing; the highly ambitious scope of their visions, and relationships, is quite another. This ain't Steadicam literature. One is tempted to skim the novel, or read it where its pages happen to fall open -- a re-collaging of its own collage. But that would be a grievous mistake." - Jay Merrick, The Independent

  • "(W)here London Orbital sometimes felt like Sinclair boiling what he does down to its commercial essence, Dining on Stones extrapolates magisterially in all directions." - Ben Thompson, Independent on Sunday

  • "Dining on Stones both struggles to have a plot and struggles against it. (...) In Dining on Stones the barriers between fiction and non-fiction dissolve but somethingis lost in the dissolution. Sinclair can't bring himself to choose a single story from a tangle of possibilities." - Caroline Maclean, London Review of Books

  • "The novel's ostensible settings, despite the minute details of architecture, graffiti and litter, are self-dispelling illusions. The true setting is the constantly changing parallel universe of the writer's mind." - Hugo Barnacle, New Statesman

  • "Yet recent converts may just be held by the very complexity of Dining on Stones. With close reading, the numerous metafictional devices, the shadows of himself, start to offer up more than they withhold. The multiple narrators represent a conversation taking place inside Sinclair's own head. He simultaneously invites attention and repels it." - Jonathan Heawood, The Observer

  • "But the tone of his new novel is quite different; the satire, the piercingly close observation, the sinewy, super-agile prose are still all there. But in place of the anger one used to sense, Sinclair seems rather more genial, amused, than of late. (...) This book pulsates with good humour and intelligence -- Sinclair on top form." - Sinclair McKay, Sunday Telegraph

  • "The essential difference between his novels and his travelogues is that the latter invariably feature an index. It is a boundary that Dining on Stones could afford to cross." - Michael Caines, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       Dining on Stones is yet another Iain Sinclair fiction rooted firmly and obviously in fact and autobiography. The alter-ego narrator here is Andrew Norton -- himself doubled, as one of the main plot-lines (to the extent that there's any plot in the book) is that the real Norton finds that a fake Norton, sporting the same name and all, is publishing work based on his own research and experiences. The second Norton is like a shadow of the first, close but ungraspable; there's always, of course, also the suspicion that he's merely the face in the mirror that always looks just a bit like a stranger, the part of himself Norton isn't entirely comfortable with.
       This novel is presented in three separate books, each with a faux-cover, author (always Norton), title, and publisher printed on it. The publishers represent, out of order, three of Sinclair's own major stations. First is "Granita Books" -- i.e. Granta, where Sinclair made his real breakthrough, and who published many of his books. (This first of the three books is titled: Estuary Lives, the Norton-equivalent of Sinclair's own Downriver -- though this book wasn't, in fact, first printed by Granta.) The second book is presented as published by Penguin imprint Hamish Hamilton, Sinclair's current publisher (and the actual publishers of Dining on Stones), while the third is attributed to Albion Village Press, where much of Sinclair's early work appeared (essentially self-published).
       In Dining on Stones Norton is not quite on the run, but he's unsettled. He's having trouble writing (and has his doubts about the whole writing enterprise), and is bothered by familiarity and fame. Like most of Sinclair's characters (real and imagined), Norton is almost always on the move (and almost always on foot), still looking -- for something new, for experience, for material, for the big picture. It ain't easy any more:

Nothing was, everything was like. Referenced, analogous. Parodic.
       In mysterious manuscripts and familiar books -- and, always, in places, too -- Norton finds echoes and allusions. Invention and reality mesh. Sinclair's own work (disguised, vaguely, as Norton's) is central, as is much of his biography; reader's of his previous books will recognise a good deal here. A variety of influences hang over the work, notably Rodinsky (of Rodinsky's Room), Joseph Conrad, and the classic Cammell/Roeg film Performance.
       London is still the epicentre, but where London Orbital already literally focussed around it (following the M25), here it is the A13 that is the road taken.
       How to write is a central issue, the plagiarising alter-ego not the only challenge to his own creativity. A more basic question -- what can literature be ? -- is always on his mind, best efforts quickly frustrated:
     You see ? It's impossible. Flaccid prose dragging itself across the page. The Conradian era is over, leisurely paragraphs, tracking shots punctuated by elegantly positioned semi-colons.
       Faults are perhaps more easily found by in the other Norton, but there's no escaping the fact that he's a mirror-image:
I understood all too well where Norton, lazy as most of his profession, found his material. He found it, but didn't know what to do with it: let it breathe, let germ cultures form their patterns, shape a coherent narrative.
       There are episodes in Dining on Stones, actual action, a touch of mystery and adventure, death. There are literary preoccupations, and there's some romance (or at least some women -- including in a larger than expected role Norton's former wife) -- though Norton/Sinclair remains unsure of pretty much everything (Sinclair's protagonists are often obsessive but remain singularly undetermined). But it's not plot one reads the book for.
       Dining on Stones, like many of Sinclair's works, can be maddening. The writing is often hypnotic -- but is more likely to lead the reader in circles than anywhere concrete. It's a hell of a ride -- bruising, touching, funny, clever -- but remains, as a whole, vaguely unsatisfying.
       Certainly not for everyone -- readers who need their fiction to be unambiguously plot-driven will quickly be frustrated -- but impressive and compelling.

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Dining on Stones: Reviews: Iain Sinclair: Other books by Iain Sinclair under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

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

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© 2004-2010 the complete review

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