Article Women & Money

A city between the pages

“As I walk through London I find I’m moved by history but not by nostalgia, and I wonder if what I’m moved by is perhaps something behind history, behind events and personalities; mythic forms, archetypes, the old, old stories, something older than this city, something that is inherent in the very idea of the city.” — Geoff Nicholson, Bleeding London

Stories inspired by cities

One of the characteristics of fiction is its ability to place the reader in an entirely foreign setting without them moving an inch. They can experience the richness of a city - the stories that take place in it and the people that live there - without ever visiting it. Cities like New York, Paris, Sydney, Delhi, Munich, and many other cities have been fascinating settings for several pieces of fiction in the past. And they continue to inspire authors to recreate them in fiction.

Similarly, London has been the background for many novels and stories over the years. Books like Brick Lane by Monica Ali, Night Haunts by Sukhdev Sandhu, and London Fields by Martin Amis are fictional narratives about London and reveal a lot about the city to readers.

The 1997 book Bleeding London by Geoff Nicholson is also such a fiction. London is the backdrop for strange explorations, revenge and oddity in this captivating narrative. As the story progresses, the city takes on a life of its own. Protagonists, enraged, enraptured and entwined, cannot do without the city - and the city gives them what they are looking for and more.

Three protagonists and a city

The three protagonists of the story are diverse. Judy Tanaka, a half-Japanese, who has a Japanese father and an English mother, is an attractive woman who speaks posh English. Mick Wilton, a bouncer from Sheffield, is a man on an ad hoc, personal mission in the capital. Stuart London, who has established walking tours around London for tourists, is now no longer concerned with the business his ambitious wife has taken over.

The three stories emerge quietly and with impact, as the city of London absorbs them into its folds. Stuart London, who hates his own name, finds himself on a clandestine expedition exploring every possible street and road in London. He does all this, in secrecy, without his wife Anita having any knowledge about this.

Stuart sets out to cover on foot, 8,000 and more miles of London in less than three and a half years, provided he does it regularly, five days a week, covering ten miles in a day. He maintains a walker’s diary where he notes down details of everything interesting that transpires during his walks. He writes about the people he observes, or meets, certain interesting facets of the city, and the many traditional and modern hues of London.

Mick Wilton travels from Sheffield to London to avenge the gang-rape of his girlfriend Gabby, who is a stripper. He does not like London, does not know it well, and is almost lost on his first day in London. Mick must find Park Lane, but realizes the Park Lane he is looking for in London, is in Hackney. And no cab will take him there. However, he meets Judy, who works at London Particular, a bookshop, and soon he is in the possession of an A-Z map of London and a guide book.

Mick, not only finds his way to Hackney, but eventually meets every one of those men on his hit list, and delivers what he thinks is befitting justice to them. He also makes phone calls to Gabby in Sheffield as his days in the city progress, but she seems reticent and withdrawn.

The first punishment is delivered on London Bridge. This is after a forced guided car tour of London that started from outside a maisonette. Similarly, included in the plotting and execution of Mick’s revenge, are several other London locations. One is in Kensington, one is on a boat moored in Chelsea Harbour, one is in a doctor’s house and two others are in differently located apartments - while the last spot is bizarre. Some of these places include Islington, Docklands, and Fitzrovia.

Judy Tanaka, on the other hand, has her own set of problems-to-solve. She visits a therapist who, however, finds no problem with her. The author creates an environment of peculiarity by stringing her life with Stuart’s, who she has an affair with. She has also been marking every place she has fornicated in, in London, on transparent sheets placed upon a map of London in her house.

A reader’s journey through the many streets, roads, lanes, courtyards, alleyways, avenues, embankments, and towpaths of London, is supported by the book Bleeding London. Within the pages exists not only the characters and their stories, but also the city itself. London is a complicated network. It would be a very difficult task, perhaps even for an idiosyncratic daywalker like Stuart London, to prise open the many mysteries of London.

The storylines coalesce together at different points in time. The three individuals are commoners, but their stories are unique, specially placed in various settings within London. The city also becomes their unlikely inspiration, and their guardian of sorts.

Extensive explorations

Stuart London provides the most elaborate information on London to readers, because of the diary he maintains. Before embarking on his journey exploring London, Stuart decides that the “Process of seeing will be a highly selective one.” And he follows through. Estates, monuments, museums, art galleries, bridges, tunnels, coffee houses, pubs, towers, buildings, hotels, ruins, churches, markets, streets and roads in London - the past, present and the future of the city - all eventually become a part of his diary.

Stuart mentions, “Little pieces of London which are forever foreign: Maida Vale, Trafalgar, Waterloo, Sumatra Road, Yukon Road, Mafeking Road, two Ladysmith Avenues, six Ladysmith Roads.” He also marks in his diary, “I saw the quixotic and quaint in London: Artichoke Hill, Quaggy Walk, Yuletide Chose, Pansy Gardens, Evangelist Road.”

His walker’s diary becomes a running commentary on varied areas in London. He includes names like St. Anne’s Court in Soho, Hertford Road, Edmonton, Lupus Street, Pimlico, Broad Road, New Eltham, Mapesbury Road, Willesden, Oxford Street, Oxford Circus, MarbleArch, Chester Row, Sloane Square, Fellows Road, Winchester Road, Lambolle Road, Boadicea’s Hill, and so on.

Stuart spots outside Tottenham Court Road tube station, a Spanish girl handing out leaflets of a language school. He points out sixties Cadillac convertibles, and he even mentions 7 Cavendish Avenue, the place associated with Paul McCartney. He also comes across statues of John Kennedy, Bomber Harris, and Boadicea, who he has a particular proclivity to. He makes a note of a stretch of Finchley Road that runs from St John’s Wood to Swiss Cottage.

He also jots down the name of Iceland Supermarket, and behind it Waterloo Passage, Kilburn. He also writes about Marylebone Road, the location linked to Madame Tussauds and the Planetarium. He further writes about Victoria Embankment at Charring Cross Pier, Blackfriars Bridge, Queen Victoria Street, Upper Thames Street, Cannon Street Bridge, and innumerable parts of London. Stuart’s diary is filled with anecdotes from his London travels.

Cartographic guide

As a reader, if one has never been to London, the book offers one cartographic guide for sure. It is the A-Z of London - a map, that is in the hands of the all the three protagonists. In the case of Stuart London, it has a more geographical and practical purpose. In the case of Mick Wilton, it has more to do with investigative and tracking those-six-men-down purposes. And in the case of Judy Tanaka - it has to do more with her own reasons shackled to copulation.

The book uncovers London to its readers. It separates a city from a province, bridges the gap between ignorance and perspective, and brings to light the significance of people and places. This particular novel also creates an understanding of how people impress and influence their surroundings and vice versa. London is a modern and wealthy city. It is a city of people living interconnected, interdependent, and independent lives. It is a metropolis of secrecy, turbulence, politics, business, and much more.

There’s more

Multifarious other landmarks are also delineated in the novel, including the famous Thames Barrier, Hyde Park, Nelson’s Column, Big Ben, the Tower of London, and the Buckingham Palace. It is almost as if the author has launched himself into these excursions, and extricates in print every vein flowing through the city.

Veering back to the story, towards the end, Stuart’s wife Anita guides him away, onto a new avant-garde plan. Mick finds out that the city he had disliked so much earlier was really an unusual concoction after all. However, his personal mission ends on an unexpected note. Judy’s affairs and her obsession with London continues. London impresses itself upon the three protagonists. The city brings them together and draws them apart. Bleeding London is one of those spectacular books that can imprint a city on the minds of its readers, and without inhibition.

A city between the pages

Interesting works of fiction inspired by cities are also in disguise, stories about falling in love with a city. An intriguing storyline, in fiction, with a city-stronghold, takes a backseat at times, because the city’s presence is overpowering and whisks away readers into its meandering pathways. Likewise, readers who are looking to learn more about a particular city without seeing it in person can alternatively find novels that help them discover a city they admire.

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Photo Credit: Photo of London by Diego Torres

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