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18Jun

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M John Harrison review – brilliantly unsettling

Harrison is fabulously alert to the spaces between things in this novel of collapsing certainties in a haunted England

Towards the end of the last century, there was a spate of haunted London novels, by Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd and Chris Petit among others. Broadly psychogeographic in nature, they featured middle-aged men washed up on the outer reaches of the Thames, part of the detritus of a city ravaged by Thatcherism. In 1989, the science fiction writer M John Harrison took this mood and drove it out of London, crash-landing in the Yorkshire hills with the magnificently unsettling Climbers, a novel about an unhappy exile named Mike struggling to keep his footing among a group of temerarious local climbers.

Harrison described this real, gritty world with the same precise and estranging fluency with which he has more often mapped galactic space, using the dense idiolect of climbing to make atmosphere and geology resonate on an emotional, interior level. Some kind of breach or fault line was being cautiously staked out, a post-industrial, late-capitalist collapse in credit and confidence so amorphous and inarticulable that it would vanish altogether if apprehended too directly. 

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