You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


White Chappell, Scarlet TracingsWhite Chappell, Scarlet Tracings by Iain Sinclair
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is it possible to enjoy a book while aware that you are not "getting it"? Obviously, yes, at least three stars worth.

I have been looking forward to reading Iain Sinclair, and have built up a small battery of his books. This is the first one I've tackled, lured in by its brevity and the plot lines that promise dissolute used book dealers and Jack the Ripper.

The book dealers, given my slight contact with the British used book trade, I found completely believable. There is razor thin Nicholas Lane who, due to stomach ulcers constructing a coral reef in his gut, lives off cocaine and what nutrients he can absorb from his meals before he regurgitates them. He and his crew are introduced on a Mr. Toad's wild ride through the English countryside, scouting,or rather scrounging, for books, waking up one dealer in the middle of the night who, having forgotten his key, is happy to kick in the front door of his shop so they can have a look. Inside is the dealer's night crew is busy removing remainder marks and forging autographs. Lane and company find Elmore Leonard first editions and one true prize, a rare variant of Study in Scarlet they expect to net thousands from. So much for that plot line.

Now the bits about Jack the Ripper. Historical Victorian characters take over or rather permeate the proceedings, especially Dr. William Guy, a popular but largely discredited contender for the Ripper himself. The prose is brilliantly fevered at it best but so chock-a-block with place names and historical references that I decided to let it just roll on rather than work to hard to puzzle it all out. I enjoyed the ride, but I have to admit I was glad, or I should say, relieved when it was over.


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