cover image Downriver (Or, the Vessels of Wrath): A Narrative in Twelve Tales

Downriver (Or, the Vessels of Wrath): A Narrative in Twelve Tales

Iain Sinclair. Random House (NY), $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42062-0

In his U.S. debut Sinclair, a British poet, filmmaker, rare book dealer and jack-of-all-trades, puts his varied background to work in a dextrous, multifaceted novel of the London docklands. The narrator, among other sordid locals, has been hired by a movie production company to ferret out the ``real'' old-time docklands. Told as 12 stories set in the near future but riddled with spectres of the past, this novel attempts to do for this down-and-out area what Joyce did for Dublin: eulogize it with language so abstract and imagery so densely allusive as to simulate the layering of historical detail upon a specific locale. The result is nearly incomprehensible, but that's part of the fun; and Sinclair goes out of his way to entertain. His separate narratives introduce a bizarre assortment of sexual encounters and violent deaths, each as vivid and incoherent as any nightmare. Filled with the ghosts and wrecks of London history, inhabited by grubby barflies and Cockney wharf-rats, this teeming novel seems as rich, fecund and ultimately mesmerizing as the muddy Thames. Downriver won Britain's Encore Award for best second novel; Sinclair's first book, White Chapel , Scarlet Tracings , has not as yet been published here. (May)