A non-fiction week, just for a change.
First up is Andrew O’Hagan’s ‘The Secret Life’, a collection of three essays on individuals ‘from the porous border between cyberspace and the ‘real world”: ‘The Invention of Ronald Pinn’ finds O’Hagan exploring the darker edges of the internet by constructing a new identity from that of a deceased young man. ‘The Satoshi Affair’ looks at Craig Wright, an Australian web designer who may, or may not, have created the ‘bit coin’. Finally, ‘Ghosting’ concerns the travails of the author when collaborating with the controversial Wiki-Leaks founder Julian Assange on his autobiography: clue – it doesn’t end happily. I love O’Hagan’s fiction, especially ‘Be Near Me’ which seems criminally neglected. His work is always thoughtful, intelligent and heartfelt and I look forward to his next novel in much the same way as I look forward to a bright summer’s day. Much of his non-fiction can be read in ‘The London Review of Books’ , which originally published these pieces.
Next up is a slender volume, ‘Middlefield: a postwar council estate in time’ by Ian Waites. This is a beautiful collection of photographs and text around the council estate which the author lived on as a child. Nowadays we are used to being told stories of these places as dark places of despair, drugs and desperation but Waite, like many others, looks back to a different time, a time of optimism, a time when governments and authorities cared about their people and wanted the very best for them. It may be nostalgia; it may be naivety but, as Grenfell Tower has so horribly reminded us, we can no longer allow hard-faced monetarism and greed make the decisions on how and where those in need live. I promise that if all you know about council estates is what you read in the tabloids, buy this book and you’ll change your mind.
‘Middlefield’ is published by Uniform Books and can be ordered on their website. As an accompaniment to this book, I would recommend ‘Prospect of Skelmersdale’ by The Magnetic North, an album I am currently obsessed with. Sort of electronic folk music, it is concerned with Skelmersdale, a ‘new town’ in Lancashire which was designated in 1961…