The Olympics, the story goes, have transformed London into a gleaming, wholly modern city. And East London—Olympic headquarters—is the city’s new jewel, provider of unlimited opportunities and better tomorrows. The grime and poverty have been scrubbed away, and huge stadiums and grand public sculptures have taken their place.
The writer Iain Sinclair has lived in East London for four decades, and in Ghost Milk, he tells a very different story about his home: that of a neighborhood turned upside down, of stolen history. Long-beloved parks have vanished; police raids can occur at any time; and high-security exclusion zones—enforced by armed guards and hidden cameras—have steamrolled East London’s open streets and public spaces. To prepare for the most public of events, everything has been privatized.
A call to arms against the politicians and public figures who have so doggedly preached the gospel of the Olympics, Ghost Milk is also a brilliant reflection on a changing landscape—and Sinclair’s most personal book yet. In an attempt to understand what has happened to his beloved city, Sinclair travels farther afield: he walks along the Thames from the North Sea to Oxford; he rides the bus across northern England; he visits Athens and Berlin, Olympic sites of the recent and distant past.
Elegiac, intimate, and audacious, Ghost Milk is at once a powerful chronicle of memory and loss, in the tradition of W. G. Sebald and Roberto Bolaño, and a passionate interrogation of our embrace of progress at any cost.
About Iain Sinclair
Iain Sinclair is the author of many books, including Downriver, Lights Out for the Territory, London Orbital, and Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire. He lives in Hackney, East London.
A resident of Hackney, in the area of London that has been destined for transformation by the Summer Olympics, Sinclair (Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report, 2009, etc.) has watched the development over the past few years with consternation and alarm. The heart of the area is Stratford, once a shambling, marshy mess of loading docks called Chobham Farm, where the author, then a fledgling poet and college graduate, worked as a day laborer in 1971. His first essays form a poignant reflection on this now-lost world of scrappy young transients eking out a hand-to-mouth existence unloading sea containers and loading lorries. Subsequently, the area was seized by what Sinclair believes was a nefarious “intimate liaison” between government and development, in a manner he compares both to the German model and to the Chinese system (in one chapter, a Chinese poet now living in London reflects on the similar “destruction of history” he witnessed in Beijing in preparation for the 2008 games). In “Ghost Milk,” the author examines the disturbance of long-settled industrial waste on the multi-acre site, which provoked an ecological disaster. Sinclair is a veteran trekker among the urban wasteland. Inspired by Peter Ackroyd’s 2007 film Thames: Sacred River, as well as by the work of J.G. Ballard, he took off by foot for a river walk to Oxford; more ambitiously, he traveled to the former Olympic sites in Berlin and Athens and to the Ballard holdings at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas. American readers will be alternately delighted and disoriented by Sinclair’s spastic, giddy literary circumambulations. – Kirkus Reviews
Sinclair Rejects Olympic Excess In ‘Ghost Milk’
NPR Book Review – July 25, 2012 (Excerpt)
For every successful Olympic Games, such as Sydney’s in 2000, there are twice as many failures. Montreal famously declared that the 1976 Olympics would pay for themselves; instead the city needed forty years to square its debt, and meanwhile the Expos left town. Beijing’s Bird’s Nest is crumbling; the hotels far from downtown are vacant. And in debt-wracked Athens, whose lavish Games went ten times over budget, farmers graze their pigs in the abandoned weightlifting stadium.
But if Iain Sinclair is right, this month’s London Olympics will outdo all predecessors for short-term annoyance and long-term devastation. Ghost Milk, his enraged new book on the “future ruins of London,” explores the history and reconstruction of the east of the British capital, where he has lived for decades, and he is not impressed. Sinclair has no truck with the “grand projects” of our day, monuments to politicians’ egos and corporations’ greed such as the Millennium Dome, the white-elephant Thames-side arena now renamed for a cell phone company. But the Olympics is the worst grand project of them all. It is “the scam of scams,” in Sinclair’s phrase, “the five-hooped golden handcuffs … with corporate sponsorship, flag-waving, and infinitely elastic budgets (only challenged as an act of naysaying treason).”
Sinclair is a very British figure, an eccentric and a man of the establishment at once. Though he made his name as a novelist, in his recent books — notably London Orbital, for which he walked the 117 miles of the capital’s ring road — he’s moved towards a baggy documentary nonfiction he calls “psychogeography,” a term borrowed from the Situationist Guy Debord. And Ghost Milk is a very British book. American readers may be frustrated by long discursions into the sociological character of street after East London street, or unglossed names like Jeremy Paxman (a prickly BBC news anchor) or Tessa Jowell (a Labour minister whose husband was convicted of corruption). But few Americans can match Sinclair’s attention to landscape and his introduction of local voices, and as we turn to watch sports we pretend to care about once every four years, his book reminds us that a city is a living thing, not a branding opportunity. [Read the full article...]
For U.K. Author, Games A ‘Smoke And Circuses’ Affair
NPR Book Review – July 28, 2012 (Excerpt)
Thousands of elite athletes have descended on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, and spectators the world over are tuning in to enjoy the action.
But five years’ worth of development has left some locals feeling invaded, and some austerity-weary Britons resenting the bill. Between construction and security, the British government’s budget has soared past $14 billion, about $10 billion over original projections.
East London, home to Olympic Park, the hub of the games, is also home to some of the poorest parts of England. Officials have touted the long-term benefits the games are bringing to the area, like low-income housing and better infrastructure. But author and longtime East London resident Iain Sinclair isn’t buying it.
Sinclair’s latest book is called Ghost Milk: Recent Adventures Among the Future Ruins of London on the Eve of the Olympics. He tells NPR’s Guy Raz that the 2012 Olympics have been challenging for the people living closest. [Read the full article...]
DOODLEBUGS & SPITFIRES Memories and Short Stories by Peter Carroll
“Doodlebugs & Spitfires” is a delightful collection of memories and short stories written by Peter Carroll, the author of “Queen of Misfortune,” in his trademark poetic and profoundly thoughtful style.
Most of his stories, previously published in limited form in local English newspapers and magazines, like “Brave New World”, “The Forties Street Tradesmen”, “Doodlebugs”, or “The Christmas of 43” evolve around his childhood in the Northern part of London during and after World War II. He describes the horrors that came with the V1 flying bombs, nicknamed the “Doodlebugs.” Heroic British pilots in their “Spitfire” airplanes would attempt to divert the flying bombs from the populated areas, sometimes successful, and sometimes not.
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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