Most of my reading over the last few months has been a case of filling in blanks, completing the backlists of favourite authors, or reading the full bibliography of newly-discovered ones (new to me, if not to others). Other than books I’ve been sent to review, I haven’t really read much contemporary stuff for some time. Iain Sinclair’s ‘Ghost Milk’ was one, and he’s not exactly an up-and-coming writer; David Foster Wallace’s incomplete posthumous novel ‘The Pale King’ was another. It’s not that I’m incurious about the literary world or the state of contemporary fiction, just that if you have the chance to read some John Berger or Samuel Beckett, why would you turn that down in favour of a gimmicky bestseller from the latest bright young thing, fresh off campus from his or her Creative Writing MA?
One of the few books on the horizon that I am looking forward to is ‘Scarp’, the debut work from the ‘deep topographer’ Nick Papadimitriou, which is going to be published by Sceptre in the spring of 2012. I haven’t read any extracts from it, I don’t really know what form it’s going to take, and I don’t really know what it’s meant to be about. But Papadimitriou is one of the most fascinating marginal figures in contemporary literature, a lonely explorer of the edgelands around the Middlesex tertiary escarpment, cataloguing in microscopic detail the landscape and its history. There’s a documentary about him, ‘The London Perambulator’, which looks tantalisingly elusive – accessible only at local film festivals, and probably damned to become one of those films for which I scour TV listings and art house cinema schedules, for years, without any sign. He seems like a genuine eccentric – his website, Middlesex County Council, gives a good flavour of his ideas – and is one of the rare instances of an author who has accrued a significant amount of life experience before putting pen to paper, let alone getting his work published. Papadimitriou is also part of a distinct (though unaffiliated) grouping of writers, artists and poets who are dedicated to place, and the ideas engendered by it. Iain Sinclair says that in an age of globalised imagery, we need people out there on the edges, defining the local and the particular, more than ever.
There’s a good interview with Papadimitriou, and admirers like Sinclair and Will Self, here from the BBC’s Newsnight. Whatever form ‘Scarp’ takes when it is published, I think it’s going to be fascinating.