Craig Taylor’s wonderful Londoners captures the essence of the place by letting those who live there describe their feelings about their city.
Although rather long and awkward, this book’s subtitle gives a better idea of what you’ll find here. “The Days and Nights of London Now—As Told By those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It And Long for It” is certainly a mouthful, but you get the idea of what you’re in for when you begin reading.
In their own voices, eighty Londoners give you their insider’s views of this sprawling metropolis. To make these short first-person narratives more manageable, Taylor divides them into three parts and then arranges them by headings. For example, under the “Arriving” heading, you’ll discover five individuals talking about the city. An airline pilot offers a brief two-page view of London from the air as he guides a jetliner into Gatwick. A young university graduate who just moved from Leeds to London to start his new life gives a much longer account. The last three people—a woman from Uganda, an American tourist, and a new arrival from Iran—offer their views on either living in or visiting the British capital.
It is plain when paging through the table of contents that Taylor has tried very hard to provide a real cross-section of people. The long list includes a currency trader, manicurist, paramedic, and street cleaner as well as a dominatrix, Wiccan priestess, rickshaw driver and funeral director. The social and cultural classes are also broadly represented with an old-age pensioner, the CEO of Canary Wharf Group PLC, a squatter, a property owner, and a number of African and Asian immigrants.
Why write a book about the residents when London has so much history and so many remarkable sights? As far as the author is concerned, that is all “secondary to the lives of people here at the tail end of this first decade of the twenty-first century.” He explains his rationale in the book’s introduction:
‘I wanted to try to assemble a collage of voices that could yield a richness about a place and time. ..I wanted to go beyond the news cycle and find real testimony in lively, demotic speech, as Studs Terkel and Ronald Blythe had done in their pioneering oral histories.’
It took five years and more than 200 recorded interviews to create this book. The candid comments assembled here run the gamut from wise to ridiculous. Most importantly, they carry the ring of authenticity and make for an exceedingly entertaining read.