London. As Dickens would say. A word that fills the air with infinite voices, that makes the heart expand and the stomach turn. A city that is – what all cities are – a novel, alive with characters and myriad narratives. It is a machine and a body that writers from Daniel Defoe to Martin Amis have enjoyed dissecting and getting lost in. In a place so rich in stories, new writers and publishers spring up regularly. One of the most recent and notable of these is Hackney’s Influx Press. A D.I.Y enterprise from Kit Caless and Gary Budden, Influx endeavors to publish site-specific fiction – a form that continues to grow in popularity and includes such masters of landscape writing as Iain Sinclair and Robert MacFarlane.
The first book from Influx Press is as cacophonous as the city it analyses. Acquired For Development by is a collection of new writing with Hackney as its theme and muse, a place that has become emblematic of gentrification. A borough with sharp contrasts in terms of wealth and prospects, and where the anti-establishment interweaves with the corporate to such an extent that it can be difficult to extricate the one from the other.
A mixture of poetry, reportage and fiction with a gorgeous cover illustrated by the wonderful Laura Oldfield Ford, this is one of the finest literary discoveries I have come across this year. As the title, taken from an Alexander Baron novel, suggests, it explores the continual transformations of this Proteus-like city and the vestiges that remain of its past. The ghost of the legendary Four Aces nightclub haunts the newly risen towers of Dalston Square in Tim Burrows’ ‘Dalston Kittiwakes’, while past waves of immigration inform Eithne Nightingale’s moving account of loss in ‘Foucault Over The Garden Fence’.
It would be a mistake to assume that this is a niche project for the edification of East Londoners alone. The questions it raises are applicable from Brixton to Kreuzberg, from Brooklyn to the Marais. Hackney is a microcosm of the modern city. A fact that has its counterpart in the anthology form, where each piece represents the whole. The structural dynamism and subtle regret of Daniel Kramb’s ‘Dalston Lane’, for example, so eloquently encapsulating the seemingly contradictory impulses of relief and sadness that accompany the shedding of the past – a theme that resonates throughout the collection along with that of economic division in Kit Caless’ ‘The Finest Store’ and Gavin James Bower’s ‘Tara’.
2012 continues to be a bumper year for London books. From the addictive and moving testimonies of Craig Taylor’s Londoners to the neo-Dickensian city epics of John Lanchester and Zadie Smith, addicts of London literature are spoilt for choice. Acquired for Development by is a worthy addition to this canon, an exuberant and provoking exploration of our yesterdays and our tomorrows as revealed by our present.