Book Review: Londoners by Craig Taylor

My friend Jill is currently studying at the London School of Economics, and consequently lives in the heart of London. While she was home about a month ago, I subjected her to a long, self-indulgent monologue where I waxed poetic about how much I simultaneously love and miss London and how I want to live there and see plays and go to museums and eat at Pret-a-Manger. After she graciously listened to my boring whinging, she recommended this book, Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now - As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It by Canadian author Craig Taylor.

I naturally went to Chapters immediately after we parted and nestled down with a coffee to see what this book about the greatest city on earth had to offer. I was not disappointed.

Quick plot summary:

I actually can't really give a plot summary for Londoners, because, well, there isn't one. This book is a collection of interviews conducted by Taylor over a series of 5-ish years. He divides the book into different topics: arrival, moving around the city, culture clash. Under each heading are a series of interviews with an often unlikely bunch of people. My personal favourites include a chat with the woman who is the voice of the Underground, several interviews with a man named Smartie who worked as the most popular London club DJ in the 1980s, a late-night and early morning spent with a man who works buying produce at an open market, and the story of a man who worked as a rickshaw driver for years.

Taylor begins the book with a preface outlining his inspiration for the book. As a young writer, he left Canada to work in London and spent a miserable first year there. Yet when he returned home, he couldn't escape the draw to the city, and he eventually moved back. His intention as he embarked upon his five-year journey of meeting and interviewing Londoners was to discover what it is that makes London - its appeal for some, repulsion for others, and the ever-changing cultural landscape that makes defining what it means to be a Londoner nearly impossible.

I liked Londoners. I thought it was really interesting to read the sort of vast and varied opinions of London and living within the city's limits. I read a (much better) review on Aarti Chapati's blog that described the book as "haunting," and I can't put it any better myself. I felt simultaneously enamoured and repulsed, fascinated and frightened of London long after turning the last page of this book; I'm sure that was the very point Taylor was trying to make. That London cannot be defined as one thing. It does not evoke one particular feeling or memory; it is a complicated, living, moving entity.

If you like London and interviews and personal histories, I think Londoners is a book you simply must pick up.

Jillz

Number of books read in 2012: 6
Current TV series: The West Wing (season 2)
Today's nail colour: Essie's "Turquoise and Caicos"

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