All the Devils Are Here, by David Seabrook

A situationist by the seaside
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The Independent Culture

Out of the ventriloquism of TS Eliot's The Waste Land, a single moment recalls the reader to the poem's composition, staggering into Frankenstein half-life on the Kent coast: "On Margate Sands I can connect/ Nothing with nothing." As David Seabrook says in the prelude to this trek through the blasted remnants of Kentish history, Eliot's poem "appeared to have been blown to bits and put together again at high speed".

We think of The Waste Land as a quintessentially metropolitan poem. But a more marginal inheritance attaches to the image of Eliot's nervous wreckage stranded on the shore. A literature of England's outskirts and hinterlands has come into grainy focus again in recent years. If the form found its loftiest expression in WG Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, the priest of its low-church variety is undoubtedly Iain Sinclair.

Seabrook owes much to Sinclair's recasting of landscapes as cultural geologies of strangeness. All the Devils Are Here essays a kind of seaside situationism, predicated on the porousness of borders: between time and space, past and present, nature and culture.

Kent, with its ghosts of pleasures past (the seaside towns they forgot to close down), is ripe for this treatment. In Rochester, Seabrook finds a town trapped in a grotesque performance of its own history: economic decline giving way to the living death of heritage time. In Chatham, "a long time dead", he raises the spectre of the painter and patricide Richard Dadd. The whole territory is alive with significance, real or imaginary. From Broadstairs (John Buchan, Willam "Lord Haw-Haw" Joyce) to Deal (the last days of Charles Hawtrey), the shades of the past circulate about Seabrook's base in Canterbury.

Seabrook paints an almost caricatured picture of himself (skinhead, vintage Crombie), but the sharp lines blur as drink, fatigue or anxiety take hold, or his face reminds an interviewee of some long-lost conquest. There is a sense that the book's fractured landscape could only make sense to a mind bent on putting something back together again, shoring fragments against its ruin.