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the Complete Review
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Lights out for the Territory

Iain Sinclair

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To purchase Lights out for the Territory

Title: Lights out for the Territory
Author: Iain Sinclair
Genre: Documentary
Written: 1997
Length: 386 pages
Availability: Lights out for the Territory - US
Lights out for the Territory - UK
Lights out for the Territory - Canada
  • 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London
  • Illustrations by Marc Atkins

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Our Assessment:

B : unusual London vistas, site and time-specific, but well related

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Daily Telegraph A- 18/1/1997 Ruth Rendell
The Guardian A 23/1/1997 James Wood
The Kenyon Review A Winter/2001 Rod Mengham
New Statesman A 17/1/1997 Ken Livingstone
The NY Times Book Rev. B+ 29/8/1999 Michael Hofmann
The Spectator A 8/2/1997 Ian Thomson
The Sunday Times A+ 4/1/1998 Phil Baker
TLS . 14/2/1997 Phil Baker
The Village Voice B+ 24/8/1999 Simon Reynolds

  Review Consensus:

  A great, very well written book about London -- but not the familiar London. Challenging, but very worthwhile.

  (Note that these reviews are all by critics very much at home in London -- foreign critics would surely be more baffled by certain aspects of the book.)

  From the Reviews:
  • "This magnificently written record is sometimes bewildering. It bristles with digressions, amazing metaphors, bizarre incidental essays and forays into the grotesque, the arcane and the barbaric. The faint-hearted will shrink from it. (.....) Tourists will not like it, but the true Londoner may find it irresistible." - Ruth Rendell, Daily Telegraph

  • "(W)hat is so valuable in this book is the fruitful tension between the inherent conservatism of his magic theology and the radical restlessness of his prose. (.....) Sinclair is transfixed by the modern, a latter-day De Quincey: he is a sublime archaeologist of the present, and his dig has produced one of the most remarkable books ever written on London." - James Wood, The Guardian

  • "Atkins and Sinclair are the Bouvard and Pecuchet of the urban desert, the Wegg and Venus of the dust mounds, their artistic interdependence so complete in these two books it becomes impossible to decide at any given moment which is the disarticulator, which the re-articulator, of the secret knowledge they struggle to unearth." - Rod Mengham, The Kenyon Review

  • "Iain Sinclair's pitch is urban jagged: the city is a maze of symbols waiting to be revealed, and Sinclair conjures them beautifully before our eyes. Useless to describe the singularity and power of this book. Lights Out for the Territory is, quite simply, one of the finest books on London ever written." - Ian Thomson, The Spectator

  • "This is an extraordinary book, bursting with superbly offbeat material." - Phil Baker, The Sunday Times

  • "The real strengths of this collection are elsewhere, in its street reportage, its captured characters and its extraordinary prose. Sinclair is above all a phrasemaker (..) Lights Out for the Territory is an exhilaratingly funny, as well as visionary book, but it does show signs of fatigue. There is a palpable straining to contrive punchlines, internal links, and circular forms to end the pieces; to achieve some kind of closure, so that Sinclair can at last walk free of the enterprise." - Phil Baker, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Lights Out teems with striking insights and mind's eye-grabbing images. (...) Lights Out is not flawless. Alternately telegraphic and rippling, Sinclair's prose frequently grinds to a near halt in snarl-ups of elliptical opacity." - Simon Reynolds, Village Voice

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:

       London rambler Iain Sinclair collects nine vaguely connected pieces in this hefty volume. London, needless to say, is his locale, inspiration, subject and object. With photographer Marc Atkins he traipses far afield in the great city, lighting out for the territory. "I been there before," Huck Finn says (that is where the title comes from), and though we may sometimes feel we have trod these Sinclairian paths before, there are few better guides.
       In his familiar dense and referential style excavator extraordinaire Sinclair digs deep into the nooks of London. It is a varied trip, taking us from the penthouse to the back alley. Lord Jeffrey Archer's art collection is inspected, for example, an exercise too good to be missed. Sinclair takes on Stewart Home as well as P.D. James, gives a clear account of Rachel Whiteread's House project, as well as the Turner Prize flap (with an admirable account of the Drummond, Cauty, and K Foundation doings). There's an excellent piece on Sinclair's aborted film career. And there are the usual London-obsessed (and often obscure) literati, the true city denizens, Sinclair's heroes, many lost in London's cracks. The cast of characters includes all the usual suspects and dozens more: Alan Moore, the Krays, Aidan Dun (with his Vale Royal), Robin Cook, to give a random sampling.
       A favourite moment: Sinclair's riverside path crosses that of Nigel Williams as Williams prepares to embark on Two and a Half Men on a Boat. Barely a paragraph, it is cutting to the quick -- representative of Sinclair's doings throughout the book, page after page.
       It is a big, dense book Sinclair has written here, with the many odd moments of fascination. It is also, however, an "insider" book, a name-dropper's delight, a dizzying whirl of literary circles. The London critics might be amused (as are we), but much does get lost without familiarity with the many associations that Sinclair seems to take for granted. So we don't know whether the uninitiated will find as much pleasure in the text.
       An interesting London-book, packed to the margins with information and titbits, gossip and opinion, we enjoyed it. Sinclair writes well, and his perambulations rarely disappoint. Still: definitely not for everyone.

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Lights out for the Territory: Reviews: Iain Sinclair: Other books by Iain Sinclair under review: Other Books under review that might be of interest:

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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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