HAMISH HAMILTON £16.99 £15.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

Dining on Stones by Iain Sinclair

From Aldgate to Essex: Ben Thompson enjoys Iain Sinclair's new symphony of cockney cultural resonance, a paean to the A13




Long ago, before New Labour were even thought of, Billy Bragg applied the logic of the hoary US rock'n'roll standard "Route 66" to a thoroughfare closer to his own Barking heart. "A13: Trunk Road to the Sea" might fairly be seen as John the Baptist to this book's Jesus - a pithily prophetic foretaste of Iain Sinclair's psycho-geographic New Testament of "aspirant Americana" ("New Jersey's reed beds translated to Newham") and Pauline revelation on the road from Aldgate to Essex.

"The A13 is a tributary of London's orbital motorway, the M25," explains one of Sinclair's trio of narrators. "But unlike the M25 it goes somewhere, if you can call Southend somewhere." The clear invitation to see Dining on Stones as a seductively linear outgrowth of its necessarily circular predecessor (London Orbital, Sinclair's ecstatically received paean to the highway) should be stoutly resisted. In fact, the reverse is the case: where London Orbital sometimes felt like Sinclair boiling what he does down to its commercial essence, Dining on Stones extrapolates magisterially in all directions.

The now seemingly obligatory JG Ballard quote on the cover (underlining the assertion that this is "the ultimate road novel", with the woefully cheesy subclause "and Iain Sinclair is in the fast lane") rather makes the heart sink. The publication of London Orbital saw Ballard and Sinclair striking up a promotional synergy almost as totalitarian as that between, say, Dave Eggers and Nick Hornby. Happily, far from marking its author's final transition from East End outlaw to toast of the back-slapping year-end lists, this inspired follow-up is a profound and impassioned meditation on the corrosive impact of literary success.

Repairing to a dilapidated landmark modernist apartment block on the Hastings seafront, the first of Dining on Stones' psychedelically overlapping first persons is in flight from "the madness of seeing London as text. Words. Dates. Addresses. No brick that has not been touched, mentioned in a book." With the spectre of creative exhausion looming large in his rear-view mirror all the way down the A21 (just as it did for Joseph Conrad before him), Sinclair somehow finds another creative gear.

Dining on Stones embraces its new location with the same lusty enjoyment that a day-tripper from the capital might ingest a bracing rush of sea air, then returns to Sinclair's old stamping grounds with a renewed sense of purpose. From its snapshot of a Bethnal Green German Shepherd with "dry snout and the eyes of Neville Chamberlain," to a description of miniaturised cameras as "credit cards that ate light," his best prose here has the eternal vividness of a Pompeii streetscape. It also supplies the meta-fictional kick Martin Amis' The Information couldn't quite deliver: "For all I knew he was out there now," one narrative voice bickers of another, "taking the radio gigs, picking up cheques from the London Review of Books, banging on about congestion charges on Channel 4 News ... I certainly wasn't getting the calls."

The "fuzzy" boundary between fact and fiction referred to in the jacket blurb quickly blurs into nothingness. The "drug-dealing comedian" Howard Marks makes a cameo as himself ("voice of Neil Kinnock, face of Bill Wyman"). And admirers of the artist Jock McFadyen - whose 2001 Agnew's Gallery show Beyond Turner's Road was commemorated with a book of postcards and a (then) mystifying text fragment by Sinclair which can now be identified as work in progress from Dining on Stones - will see something they recognise in the painter Jimmy Seed, whose paintings of the A13 provide the spur for this book's voyage down that "semi-celestial highway".

Iain Sinclair's readership clusters around two poles. At one extreme would be a notional super-being - Iain Sinclair, say - who had physical experience of all the places he has ever written about. At the other would be the people who've been to none of them, to whom these symphonies of cockney cultural resonance must seem like a spun-sugar Winter Palace of the fictional imagination. They are actually something quite different, but every bit as spectacular: the work of a man with the power to see things as they are, and magnify that vision with a clarity that is at once hallucinatory and forensic.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week