The International Writers Magazine
: Book Review

Edge of the Orison by Iain Sinclair
A Gemma Roxy Williams Review

ISBN: 0-241-14218-0
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
(September 29th 2005)
Retail Price 16.99 Sterling

In the Traces of John Clare's 'Journey out of Essex'

Iain Sinclair and his arbitrary gaggle trace the footsteps of the mad poet John Clare, in his 1841 escape from High Beach Asylum in Epping Forest, the full eighty miles to his home in Northborough. While Clare trekked on foot, sleeping rough and eating grass, inspired by a vision of his first love, Mary Joyce, to whom he imagined himself married to, Sinclair along with his mad stragglers and stanch diviners, sleeps in hotels and starts the day with a hearty full English.

While this synopsis may suggest an enthralling literary travel book, Edge of the Orison is more alike a frenzied patchwork, ranging from literary criticism, art theory, political rants, travel notes, social critique, biography and cutting satire, to personal memoir and lyrical daydream. Amidst his throng, Keats, De Quincey, Blake, Pepys, Shelley, Joyce, Beckett, artist Brian Catling and magus Alan Moore along with Sinclair's wife Anna feature. While this could have been a pretentious approach towards exploring the most fascinatingly disturbed of the Romantic poets, Sinclair pulls of what is simultaneously a tender portrayal of Clare, and a journey along the spider-web of tangents that this leads him to brilliantly follow.

His words skip around the subjects and that which inspired them, mocking our perception of reality, while amidst demented digressions, his skillful turn of phrase makes you cry out with laughter and horror, often in chorus.While Edge of the Orison is a perfectly fascinating whirlwind in itself, it is best read as it was intended, as the concluding part in a trilogy that maps the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual plains of south-east England.  The first installment, Lights Out for the Territory: Nine excursions in the secret history of London (1997) followed nine randomly inspired paths through the capital's centre. With the general intention of reclaiming the history of the city back from the government, developers and so on, giving it back to those Sinclair considers the rightful owners; writers, actors, visionaries and collectors. The city's lost and forgotten, being granted the elapsed history of the land.

In the second installment, London Orbital (2002), Sinclair moves out to the 'grim necklace' of the city, the 130 circular miles of the M25. In the recording of this spiraling pilgrimage around the city, Sinclair believed he could create a counter-narrative to the devout snake-oil politics which Blair and his government had been pushing on the public. In the third and final installment, as we have seen, the erratic route is suggested by the crazed footsteps of John Clare, in his pursuit of a beloved woman, already three years dead; stepping outside of London, into the M11 corridor. Spotted with captivating, irrelevant information, amidst the chaos of anything from allusive description, and rantings on the future of English countryside, to hallucinatory considerations of doppelgängers. Sinclair treads the countryside, awake to random echoes and coincidence of land, literature and lives. Reading the landscape as a wise teacher, exploring the physical steps of Clare, to get closer to the mental world that this great romantic poet subsisted in. In Edge of the Orison, Sinclair succeeds in creating a captivating description of places you would never have dreamt of visiting, along routes you would never have stumbled across, while giving a touching account of Clare, and reclaiming the English countryside as our own.
© Gemma Roxy Williams Oct 2005

Roxy is a regular contributor to Hackwriters and a creative writing student at the University of Portsmouth 

More Reviews

© Hackwriters 1999-2005 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.