Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Lively London

London’s Overthrow by China Miéville, reviewed by Frank Carney

January 2, 2013
2 min read

There are two notable strains in literary representations of London. The first, characterised by comic brio and the high style, takes its rhythms from the bustle of the streets and markets, its hyperbolic register from the plausible blather of the stereotypical Londoner. This tradition derives from Dickens, runs through Wells and on into Gerald Kersh, latterly finding expression in Ballard, the Amises, B S Johnson, Iain Sinclair and Will Self.

The second mode is quieter, the scrupulous meanness exemplified by Defoe, Gissing, Patrick Hamilton and Orwell. The dreary compulsion of everyday London life saturates the prose; only the scepticism is exuberant.

London’s Overthrow belongs in the first category. This excellent book is an illustrated survey of London in 2012, consisting of interviews with local people, meditations on place and politics, forays into policy debate, excursions into the capital’s history. The obvious influence is Ian Sinclair, who makes a brief appearance. Miéville has the same hunger for the disregarded minutiae languishing in the shadows of the Grand Projects, the same sympathy for the excluded and off-message.

His style is similarly lively, dense with unexpected metaphors and odes to the quotidian. The text is generously freighted with lyrical bravura passages, affectionate renderings of non-tourist London, including a brilliant evocation of the strange charms of the Horniman Museum. Also included are indignant paragraphs on deaths in police custody, the life expectancy of the poor, the scandal of London’s housing, and the circuses-but-no-bread Olympics. And, of course, the spectre that haunts the book is the misery of economic disaster. In a characteristic phrase: ‘the economy toilets’.

There are sections that don’t convince. The discussion of clothing for female Muslims is one; Miéville’s position that the wearing of the veil is a personal matter is classically liberal and undialectical. And the assertion that ‘we had no food’ before recent migrant cuisine is unhistorical sciolism, untypical and unworthy of the author.

These are minor blemishes. London’s Overthrow is a fitting coda to the double centenary of London’s greatest biographer.


Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.

Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani

Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week

A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes

Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.

Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu

Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns