Craig Taylor is a Canadian journalist and writer who has been living in London for at least a decade. He claims to love London (he has chosen to live here above Canada, after all) but I wouldn’t have guessed that he did from this book.
The book was Radio 4’s Book Of The Week last year, and has received much critical acclaim. I decided to give it a go as an audiobook – especially as I have been doing a lot of walking recently, and obviously that is almost always on the streets of London.
Around 80 people were interviewed for the book, and this is more an exercise in editing on the author’s behalf.
I was looking forward to hearing from people that keep London ticking, the unseen perhaps – the ones who see a different London to the one that I do. I felt that they would be the stories to really make the book ‘pop’. The ones where readers are forced to see the city in a different way.
The book was divided into sections (eg arriving, living, working, departing, dying etc) although these seemed a bit of a flimsy way to bunch the stories, as invariably people’s experiences tended to go beyond the boundaries of that particular aspect.
Now, as you may realise, I LOVE this ever-changing city that I live in. I defintiely choose to be here, and although I sometimes entertain the thought of leaving and moving somewhere more rural (as I did growing up), when I give it a little more thought, I realise that I am in no way ready for that. I would miss SO much about London. To be entirely honest, I don’t think I’m old enough to leave yet. There is still so much to experience!
Although I have a deep-set love for London, I am also aware of its faults. I can’t have lived here most of my life without acknowledging them, after all. I’m not blind to them, but I am accepting of them as there are so many positives.
With that in mind, I have to say I wanted to love this book so much, and I ended up hating it.
It felt so biased. There seemed to be a huge bias towards people complaining bitterly about London – in some ways that I agreed with, but often in ways that I didn’t. The times that the peopel were upbeat and positive, they were mainly just talking about their very interesting jobs (eg bus control room operators, Spitalfields market trader, stock-broker turned cabbie, funeral director, the actress who is the voice of London Underground), and they didn’t tend to offer an opinion on London itself – so the only opinions seemed to be extremely negative.
I don’t think that it helped that not very far into the book at all, a South African that lived here for a while describes London as “…a city full of Asperger’s people…” How rude! It’s funny how London is possibly one of the most multiculturally diverse places in the world, and yet people always refer to ‘Londoners’ as being a certain way.
The only people that seemed to be very positive and confess their love for London were people that lived in the East End or Essex borders. The stockbroker turned cabbie, the market trader, and the old lady whose daughter keeps wanting to get her a nice flat in Broxbourne, but who says “London gets to you. I can’t leave it. There’s too much quiet in the countryside.”
There seemed to be so much missed out from what makes London great, and different to other place in Britain. However, this in itself cemented my love for London, and made me see it through different eyes yet again. I feel that there was so much unexplored – but so much that I haven’t explored myself.
And I have to say, the disappointment in this book has inspired me, and given me an idea to do something myself. Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!)