Monday, 8 September 2014

Hidden City

Or, to give Karl Whitney's book it's full title: Hidden City: Adventures and Explorations in Dublin by Foot, Bike, Bus, Train and Tram; In the Sewers and Underground Rivers; Along the Edges and Behind the Hoardings...  As promised to @hmckervey, this is the first of a few short reviews of books I've been reading lately. (It should probably be in Goodreads, not here, but somehow I've never managed to make the time to figure out how or why to use that site. Should I find time? Is it worth it?)

The concept itself is what first recommends the book to me, closely followed by 'dammit, why didn't I think of that'. Whitney moves around Dublin by foot, bike... well, you know the rest, and describes what he sees in clear, unprejudiced prose. Yet, because this is psychogeographical writing at its best -- yes, I stole this term from the flyleaf, and later, from Whitney's book when he references the Situationists, an avant-garde group set in 1950's Paris (where else) -- there is a very personal layer to the essays. Thus, when Whitney explores the fringes of West Dublin, he describes his own family's move there, and the effect the moves had on him. And because his is highly structured and intelligent writing, this move is echoed by the later chapter on Joyce and his family's many moves. You can follow Whitney down Dublin's drains in an excerpt from book, printed in last Saturday's Irish Times. You too might find it completely compelling.

PS For the sequel, I'd recommend taking along that smartphone, and a nutritious packed lunch. It's the Mammy in me -- we worry!


  1. Hi Paula,

    I saw Karl's piece in the Irish Times at the weekend but didn't get to read it yet, so thanks for the reminder. The book sounds fantastic, and I'm looking forward to picking it up.

    Goodreads, I've struggled with. I set it up several years ago but never did very much with it, and the motivation to do so dissipated greatly when Amazon took over. I struggle with the contradictions of Amazon - it presents us all with an incredible array of books to read at the click of a mouse, quickly and reliably delivered; and yet somehow I think it might be bad for reading, and bad for books, as it makes life so untenable for independent bookshops all over the world.

    Maybe it's just a brave new world, and the best bookshops will find a way not just to survive but also to flourish, and co-exist peacefully with the all-devouring ways of the internet.

    I live in hope, for bookshops are my touchstone when I land anywhere new, and a world without bookshops is not a world in which I want to live.


  2. I highly recommend it. It deserved a longer review in a more prominent place, but no doubt it'll get those in due course.

    Thanks for your thoughts on Goodreads. I suspect, like you, I'll rely on word-of-mouth recommendation (does twitter count?) and 'staff picks'.

  3. Yes, Twitter has to count as word-of-mouth!

    Staff picks, definitely. As someone on the verge of opening a new bookshop (!) interested to hear of your favourites?

  4. Exciting. Where will it be located? I worked in a bookshop in Long Beach years ago, The Upstart Crow, and I loved every minute. My all time favourite book is Italo Calvino's Baron in the Trees. After that, I'm all over the place, but I do look for books that challenge me — Ondaatje, Sebald, Joyce, any number of short story writers, anything from, Granta, Dalkey Archive...(sometimes; it's also nice to just sit back with a glass of wine and an easy read). Best of luck with the enterprise!

  5. PS The irony of my favourite book in relation to my Bone Clocks post is not lost on me...

  6. Navan - hope you can make the trip in time.

    I'm not familiar with the Calvino book, so the irony escapes me?

    I read the wonderful The Distance of the Moon story not long ago but that's my only exposure to Calvino so far.