In Unofficial Britain, Gareth Rees sets out to explore the marginal areas of Britain. According to the book’s blub, the unofficial Britain Rees has in mind ‘is a land of industrial estates, factories and electricity pylons, of motorways and ring roads, of hospitals and housing estates, of roundabouts and flyovers’.
I very much liked the sound of this book, but regret to say I found it disappointing. I’m all for a bit of psychogeography, but I was soon put off by non-commital accounts of ’haunted’ locations. I don’t believe in ghosts, and I don’t think Rees does either, so why write about them neutrally, as if stories about them might somehow be true? I would have avoided the nonsense subject entirely, but wouldn’t it have been more interesting to explore what it is that makes people invent such tales?
This is perhaps an unfair, very specific example. Much of Unofficial Britain has nothing to do with ‘paranormal’ nonsense. But, throughout, I couldn’t help wondering what the thesis of this book was supposed to be. As I say, the topics covered sounded very much like the sort of things I thought I’d like to read about—the same sort of topics covered in Richard Mabey‘s excellent The Unofficial Countryside, Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts’ equally excellent Edgelands, and Iain Sinclair’s occasionally challenging, more psycho-geographical London Orbital—but something about Unofficial Britain just didn’t hit the mark for me.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher.