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London Orbital

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  506 Ratings  ·  47 Reviews
Encircling London like a noose, the M25 is a road to nowhere, but when Iain Sinclair sets out to walk this asphalt loop - keeping within the 'acoustic footprints' - he is determined to find out where the journey will lead him. Stumbling upon converted asylums, industrial and retail parks, ring-fenced government institutions and lost villages, Sinclair discovers a Britain o ...more
Paperback, 460 pages
Published October 2nd 2003 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published October 5th 2002)
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Well, what can I say? I doubt there has ever been an author who took “doing the legwork” more seriously, or more literally.

It all starts with rage, as so often. Utterly infuriated by the Millennium Dome project, Iain Sinclair decides to WALK AROUND London, in an orbit following the M25, the London Orbital, in a counterclockwise movement, exploring the surrounding area as far as it is accessible for pedestrians:

“We hadn’t walked around the perimeter of London, we had circumnavigated the Dome. At
Jul 28, 2011 Jonfaith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tremendous. The narrative arced as a measure of validation for all the bookish types minding themselves on the margins. I cannot praise this book enough. London Orbital remains anecdotal and poetic. It has a charm and understatement. Consider the blurbs from Will Self and Russell Brand. There is a grit and presence here.
Dec 04, 2012 Lizixer rated it it was amazing
Remember the Dome? That strange New Labour project that drew us all to it to look at big stuff. I went a couple of times. I remember having a good meal in the 'posh' restaurant there. Then it died. Now people go to see Barry Manilow and Coldplay at the O2 and all memories of the Millenium are banished.

Iain Sinclair's book brings it all back. How we were on the eve of a new Millenium. Odd snippets of news remembered, anger at the developers carving up our forgotten and desolate wastelands to buil
Aug 19, 2007 John rated it liked it
Recommends it for: those with a very stong knowledge of English culture and history!
Shelves: travel
First of all: the author is brilliant. The bon mots fly faster dust motes in a tornado; to fully apprec iate them, the reader needs a *very* strong grounding in (somewhat obscure aspects of) English history and culture. I didn't get into the groove of Sinclair's style until nearly the end of this 500-page opus. Don't give up, but I don't blame those who do. Getting through this book is a similar to finishing a mental marathon.
P.S. I really, really could've used at least a simple map of his route
Nov 26, 2011 Becky rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1001-list-books
This was a real disappointment. As the title suggests, Iain Sinclair makes a trip around the M25, trying to define London by exploring it's outskirts. But his interests are morose, and his tone one dimensional. There are some interesting bits of history, mostly concerning the number of asylums and the smallpox hospitals, but generally, the trip is a real bore. I was really looking forward to this one, but it was dull as dishwater.
May 11, 2015 Jen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001, 1001-challenge
The M25 is a roadway that circles around London and it is generally considered to be a road to nowhere. Sinclair decides that he will walk the M25 (or paths next to the M25) through various neighborhoods and passing abandoned buildings, closed mental institutions, polluted neighborhoods, beautiful gardens and estates, and much more. Multiple "characters" accompany the author as he makes the walk around the entire circuit.

This was a fascinating book for me but it is clearly not for everyone
Oct 01, 2012 Neale rated it liked it
Iain Sinclair is a dreadful writer, and some kind of genius. He is the worst possible example for other writers to emulate, of which he should be proud.

His capacity for phrase-making is extraordinary: scarcely a paragraph goes by without some sort of rancid jewel of prose. His capacity for creating satisfactory large structures is almost zero.

His sense of psychogeography - of the past figured in the mundane present - is exhilarating. His obsessive return to certain themes and characters is like
Mark Foulkes
Aug 23, 2012 Mark Foulkes rated it it was amazing
Thought I would put this one in as my favorite book of recent years. I cannot really rate this one higher. A total triumph of dense factual and opinionated writing packed full of theory and conjecture. Every page is packed with information that must have been backed up with research. It really fired up an an interest in psychogeography in me.
Jan 03, 2014 Maik rated it it was ok
Shelves: stadt
It takes him one fifth of the book to actually get started on the titular journey, and after some very good bits, he now gets lost again. This is so maddeningly unfocused I lost patience in dissecting the promising trajectory from the chatty sidetracks. I took the train back to the city centre after the first half of the book.
Wayland Smith
Mar 07, 2014 Wayland Smith rated it it was ok
What a very odd book. The author decides to try and hike around the "London Oribtal," the road that rings London. He wanders around with a cast of varying back up characters, and takes random side trips both literally and figuratively into the history of the areas he walks through. There's a lot of talk about pictures taken along the way, but none are included.

I've read a lot of English books over the years, and I'm reasonably conversant with British slang. It wasn't enough. I have no idea what
Feb 07, 2013 Sitatunga rated it it was amazing
Shelves: london
I'm reading it again - on the principle that one should bend to the anti-clockwise centripetal force and exorcise both the putrifying scab of the malapropic Dome (O2, Greenwich Arena, future Heritage Centre) and the appalling corporate, Companion of Honour winning rave on Hackney Marshes. That's 249 miles of tarmac and concrete, double that along the disappearing rights of way, grass-tussocked canal paths, sign-cluttered Heritage bridleways and toxic fields .... over 1000 pages of tight, lexical ...more
May 09, 2009 Grace rated it it was amazing
I found this book maddening to begin with but fascinating by the end. It makes a coherent whole with strong central themes but I'm not sure if I was bludgeoned into submission by his repetition. His insistent conservatism can be overlooked. I stopped noticing that he never used one word (clause/sentence) when he could use three. I did make a mental note never to read any book(s) he may have written around 2003/2004 - the Dome/spin caused enough outrage and I can't imagine how much he'd have to v ...more
May 02, 2008 Trish rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club, struggled
Really not my cup of tea. The idea is interesting - walking round the M25 - but the way the book is written, you need doctorates in about eight different subjects to understand all his allusions and literary references.
John Beeler
Jul 11, 2007 John Beeler marked it as to-read
It didn't take long for me to realize that this would be an overwhelmingly hard read for me, or really anyone outside of London or Britian.

I gave up.
Feb 10, 2016 Thomas rated it really liked it
In a Lonely Planet age there is need and space for a book like London Orbital, a tour guide of the M25 motorway around London in the most meticulous, often ponderous prose, full of dark pessimism and end of the world imagery. This is not a read for the easily distracted or faint-hearted. Its anal attention to detail, its insistence on superficially boring detail, its lack of a narrator who wishes to impose himself as a force of human nature, the shopping malls, building sites, graveyards, insane ...more
Jan 20, 2012 Heather rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, walking
It took me about three tries before I properly got into London Orbital, mostly due to my own state of mind but also because Sinclair's writing, which is sometimes a rush of names (of people, of places) took me a while to get used to. It's a psychogeographical enterprise, an attempt to record the effects of place on life, the way the city changes: "Outsiders are struck by effects, shifts, that locals walking their animals, or collecting their kids from a fenced-off school, take for granted. There ...more
Oct 27, 2013 Jenn rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001-books
I like the basic premise of this. There is something mildly anarchic about walking round the entire M25 – no-one walks the M25 and you don’t see your surroundings as you drive, not even when you’re stuck in a traffic jam (which is often). It’s trampled on and devastated much of the home-counties - which is progress of a kind I suppose in our rush to become a global economy - but we’ve lost a lot along the way. And it’s true to say you only notice things properly when you walk.

Nonetheless the boo
Ian Mapp
Jan 03, 2014 Ian Mapp rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Like no other book that I have ever read.

I am walking the London Loop, which covers similar territory, so thought this would be an account of some of the places that I am likely to hit. However, it is not written like this.

The author has the idea - walk the areas of the Capital where "London runs out". This is close to the M25. Its broken down into sections, working anti-clockwise. Sometimes he is joined by faces, such as Bill Drummond from KLF, other times its just him and an artist/photographe
Sarah Sammis
Apr 12, 2008 Sarah Sammis rated it it was ok
Shelves: released
London Orbital by Iain Sinclair is an interesting counterpoint to Mrs. P's Journey by Sarah Hartley. It is part map and part memoir of the outer fringes of London where the M25 makes its 125 mile (give or take) loop around the city.

Sinclair's walk in the late 1990s was inspired by his hatred for the Millennium dome. Walking and mapping the areas around the M25 became a way to cleanse the palette. He broke the walk up into seven parts, working anticlockwise around the fringes of the highway.

I enj
Nov 20, 2016 Laura rated it really liked it
I started reading this book more than two years ago - it could have been five - put it down and picked it up again. it was worth the effort. I almost feel I did the walk with them. i enjoyed the sharp, unsentimental yet poetic narrative, shifting with the landscape, pulling at threads and teasing out the stories from the very edges of London. A phenomenal amount of work went into this book, it's dizzyingly dense in its references. sometimes it feels like trudging through mud, and the bleak lands ...more
Sep 06, 2013 Carmen rated it really liked it
I started this book 2 weeks ago. Ages ago. It felt like I was the one doing the walking on the M25 around London! And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Sinclair's British walkabout. I began with the intention that I was going to understand everything that was going on - I read the first two parts while sitting at the computer and looking at London and the M25 on Google maps, with extra windows open in Safari so I could check up on all the fast-flowing and random references that were being strewn abo ...more
Nov 21, 2014 Dovofthegalilee rated it it was ok
This was a book that was almost not read because of the difficulty it presented in getting into it. I pressed on and I found moments in it that I really liked which made me wonder why it didn't read well from the beginning. To me it had almost a Joycean feel to the confusion that was being presented. I would say that you have to have a really good grip on London environs, who's who in British persons and an appreciation for his style as a writer. Again there were times hat what he said resonated ...more
Apr 27, 2016 Ian rated it really liked it
Shelves: 1001-books
The M25, London's Orbital Motorway, the Road to Hell, Europe's biggest car park is given a forensic dissection in Sinclair's exhausting journey. Or rather it isn't: it remains as the undertone of traffic hum in the background, while Sinclair explores on foot its borders and verges, searching for God-knows-what. Some essence of place, some marker in time to explain the Millennial neuroses. Short sentences. Psycho-geography. Images of churches, wanderers. The lost, the insane, the impulsive walker ...more
The style of this book meant that it took me quite a while to get through it but it was well worth it.
I would say that if, like me, you don't know the Greater London area too well it would help to have a map to hand for reference to give you a sense of place.
The book has dated a little by the author's multiple references to Labour's Millennium Dome 'white elephant'.
Well worth a read for the sense of a disappearing element of the UK around the M25 motorway.
I guarantee will learn some thing new fr
Nov 08, 2012 Brittney rated it it was ok
I gave up not very far in. The writing style is both maddening and fascinating, and there are just too. many. words. So much could have (and should have) been left out. I would try and read this again if I ever become familiar with London. As there is no map included in the book, you have to spend the whole time with a map open on your computer or phone. It's clearly not meant to be understood by anyone not from London.
David Hallard
May 06, 2013 David Hallard rated it it was amazing
The page-turning locomotive of Sinclair's book is a distinctive fusion of prose and poetry. Though you will doubtless be left stranded at some point by the microscopically close focus of the author's obsessions, the trick is to hang on tight and allow the text's centripetal forces to yank you back on track. The body of knowledge over which Sinclair exercises a critical opinion is truly awe-inspiring, and promises much for successive readings. Excellent value for money.
Laura Morriss
Sep 25, 2007 Laura Morriss rated it liked it
I found this book fascinating, but at the same time, it took me over a year to read. The author manages to incorporate an amazing amount of factual detail without weighing down the narrative of his journey around London on foot, but for someone who is not British, some of the cultural and historical references are totally meaningless.
Oct 09, 2014 Lindsey rated it it was ok
This book is long and feels long. The subject is interesting enough, and the author's insights and literary references are quite relevant at times, but an overwhelming air of pretension reinforced by constant namedropping makes the work mostly inaccessible for those who aren't familiar with London. I probably would have appreciated this more if I had an inkling about what living there is like.
Guido Tenconi
Mar 22, 2015 Guido Tenconi rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Although I am italian, I speak english well enough to go through it; I know London and its outskirts enough not to get lost or to be surprised by all the obscure places he mentions; and educated enough not to miss most of his clever and cryptic references.
So I am going to finish this book but Lord Almighty this bloke most definitely is the most snobbish c**t I have ever stumbled into.
Jan 03, 2011 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: architecture
Interesting take on London's social and political landscape from the view point of a road. I found it hard to get through as Sinclair has a tenancy to use sentences that read like lists, comma, after, comma. Sinclair has very good observational skills but I feel he is not a skilled writer, such as Ballard (who he endlessly cites).
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Iain Sinclair is a British writer and film maker. Much of his work is rooted in London, most recently within the influences of psychogeography.

Sinclair's education includes studies at Trinity College, Dublin, where he edited Icarus, the Courtauld Institute of Art (University of London), and the London School of Film Technique (now the London Film School).

His early work was mostly poetry, much of i
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“Atkins knows two kinds of birds: seagulls and the ones that aren't seagulls.” 2 likes
“The line of traffic advancing towards the rising sun looked like a procession of the returning dead. Every one of them, solitaries in clean shirts, smoking, checking mirrors to see if their reflections were still there, wore dark glasses.” 1 likes
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