Tuesday, 29 October 2013

'The illusion of freedom shrouds this city of dreadful delight'


Only about a decade later after the Pace case filled the sensation-hungry press--but seemingly a world away from its rural, isolated Forest of Dean setting--James Curtis published his debut novel, The Gilt Kid, a gritty crime thriller of London's mean streets.

At London Fictions, Stefan Slater explores Curtis's dingy, dispiriting and disillusioned vision of the British capital, one that both does and doesn't sound all that distant:

PictureSuffused with an aura of decline, the Gilt Kid’s home life is centred around the shabby gentility of his cheap furnished lodgings in Pimlico – ‘the houses, for one thing, had been built for far wealthier people than were living in them’ – and the cheerful vulgarity of the environs of Victoria, a downmarket red-light district on the wane, a step down from the Lisle Street janes, patronized by soldiers stationed at the many local barracks and commuters. All that glitters is not gold:

The market stalls in Warwick Street, which at night added a vivid gaiety to the street scene, looked by day merely squalid. The ground around them was littered with bits of paper and cabbage leaves. Pale, harassed-looking women, for the most part with string-bags hanging from their arms, stared either at the stalls or into the windows of the cut-price shops; spinning their money out as best they could, they would be buying cheap tinned salmon, condensed milk, hard soaplike Canadian cheese, and salt-encrusted, badly cured Empire bacon. Those who scorned margarine would purchase imitation imported butter at tenpence a pound. On Saturdays they could get cheap scraps of dusty meat from the stalls. Few, if any, ate real food.

Hardly the glam of the smash-and-grab kings Ruby Sparks and Billy Hill. Hill has much to answer for. An imaginative man. Watch out for Duncan Webb too. You can’t trust a journalist. Or a policeman. 

There's a lot more of this at London Fictions that is very worth reading. 


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