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Liquid City

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by Marc Atkins and Iain Sinclair. Reaktion, 1999. 224pp. £14.95

In the essays of Lights Out for the Territory (AJ 10.4.97) and his novel Downriver, Iain Sinclair emerged as one of the great writers on London, especially its marginal figures and sites. If his prose is sometimes overwrought or self-indulgent, it is never bland. For him, as for Peter Ackroyd, any walk in London is a walk with ghosts, because the past presses upon the city's present as insistently as myriad surveillance cameras (which Sinclair detests) now gaze down on its streets.

Sinclair is an obsessive pedestrian, and on the long walks that formed the basis of Lights Out he was accompanied by Marc Atkins, a few of whose photographs figured in that book. In Liquid City, Atkins' photographs predominate, with Sinclair playing the supporting role and loyally commending his friend: 'Disquiet was always his benchmark - unease. He looks for articulate shadows . . . and comes home with something that resembles a catalogue of expressionist topography.'

Unfortunately Atkins' photographs, at least as reproduced here, don't live up to Sinclair's billing. Some riverine landscapes, with silhouetted power stations and brooding skies, are atmospheric, and certain mutilated monuments, backstreets and hidden squares have a predictable appeal; but otherwise Atkins' images call for Sinclair's prose, which here is in short supply. Yet there are memorable phrases - 'Sandstone is auditioned as future dust,' says Sinclair of a photograph of the London Orphan Asylum - in what is really an extended footnote to Lights Out, not a work in its own right.

Andrew Mead

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