A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London by Patrick Wright

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A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London by Patrick Wright

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A marvellous account of the Thatcher years as seen through the eyes of East London. Witty, wise and humane, this re-issue seems remarkably apropos at a time when the collapse of Margaret Hilda's neo-liberal legacy seems unpleasantly imminent.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: February 2009
Publisher: OUP Oxford
ISBN: 0199541949

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My good mood evaporated when Sue, my Bookbag partner, asked me if I'd read and review A Journey Through Ruins. She was right to ask because Thatcher's Britain is certainly an area of interest to me. The thing is, times are depressing enough. Margaret Hilda's neo-liberal legacy is crashing around us. Jobless queues are lengthening. Roofs are disappearing from over people's heads. The rampant cronyism and venal nature of our economic and political elites are slowly exposing themselves in ways likely to send my blood pressure soaring.

How much of this book could I take?

I hated Margaret Hilda Thatcher, and I hate what is happening now. I hate it that her torch was so enthusiastically taken up by the Labour - yes, what a piece of doublespeak, the Labour Party, in the name of electability. Or whatever the right word is. You see? Second paragraph, and I'm inarticulate already.

But y'know, I loved it. It's intelligent, it's witty, it's wise, and it's very much what I needed, because it's also humane. Wright tells the story of Britain in the 1980s through the eyes of East London, an area of poverty in which memories of the WWII Blitz were still vivid, in which the vision of Canary Wharf was forming, in which council houses were being sold and in which vast tracts of the capital became gentrified. There was a great deal of social unrest but there was also a great deal of getting rich - and, to be fair, it wasn't only the elite that benefited from those days, even though I think every cost on every level was too great.

What's great about A Journey Through Ruins are the cameos. Each one is important and interesting in its own right, but each one can also be extrapolated into wider cultural, political and historical themes. And I didn't find any of them depressing at all. I found that they motivated thought. I'll leave you with Wright's own first sentence in this new edition's preface:

Like all cities, London is both dying and being reborn every day.

Let's hope its latest rebirth learns from the deaths of its past.

My thanks to the nice people at OUP Oxford for sending the book.

Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London by Jennifer Worth is about London's poor in the 1950s. The Good Old Days by Gilda O'Neill looks at Victorian London. And in case - well, up until the credit crunch, at least - you're thinking we've never had it so good, take a look at Blake Morrison's state-of-the nation novel, South of the River, on the early Blair years.

Booklists.jpg A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London by Patrick Wright is in the Top Ten Books About London.
Buy A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London by Patrick Wright at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London by Patrick Wright at Amazon.co.uk


Buy A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London by Patrick Wright at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London by Patrick Wright at Amazon.com.

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