When I reached the end of this anthology, it was a personal pleasure to read Kit Caless’ story ‘Market Forces’ which centres around the lunchtime food stalls at Exmouth Market – a street that happens to be right around the corner from where I work. Not only have I seen all the market stalls he mentions, but I’ve eaten lunch from all of them. So I could both imagine the rich sensory experience of eating these dishes through his evocative writing, but I could remember tasting them myself. He creates fascinating micro-stories centred around five different characters who purchase lunch boxes from various stalls. These characters and the food they eat are from a wide range of backgrounds making a fitting statement about the confluence of cultures which is at the heart of London life.
Something that is so refreshing and exciting about this group of stories is the true diversity of people included. They feature characters named Khalil, Manja, Graham, Malik, Fire, Rupie, Wasim, Tawaiah, Daniela, Olu, Dom Filamo and Tuma. Some stories go into their ethnical and racial backgrounds. Others simply let them stand as individuals who habit the names they’ve been given or that they’ve given themselves. There are people with backgrounds in Algeria, Mauritius, Pakistan, Nigeria, Slovenia, America, Columbia and many other countries. Reading these stories isn’t an exercise in cultural tourism; it’s a true reflection of what it’s like walking down many streets in London. As Aki Schilz powerfully states in the book’s opening story “The town broadcasts its stories at a precise frequency; you just have to learn to tune in.” The stories in this collection will make you see the London and the people you pass on its streets in a new way.
I enjoy reading anthologies of different writers because it’s like getting a sampler of authors whose stand-alone books you might want to read. I’m certainly interested in reading more writing from many of the authors included in this compelling collection. Some have published several books and others are up-and-coming writers. An added bonus is included in the author bios at the end of the book where each writer names some of their favourite London-based novels as well as noting their favourite physical locations in London. You'll get a very different look at London from novel to novel when reading authors as diverse as J.G. Ballard, China Miéville, Hanif Kureishi, Virginia Woolf, Bernardine Evaristo, Alan Hollinghurst, Charles Dickens, Stella Duffy, George Gissing, Alan Moore, Monica Ali, Elizabeth Bowen, Zadie Smith, Howard Jacobson, Angela Carter, Iain Banks, Xiaolu Guo or Peter Ackroyd. Of course, no one can definitely capture London but all of them add to a fuller more pluralized vision of the city. “An Unreliable Guide to London” is a timely and significant contribution to the rich tradition of London literature. It’s a particular pleasure reading it on a London bus when you have no set destination.