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J.H. Holt on Patrick Langley

J.H. Holt zeroes in on how the depersonalised, staccato language of Patrick Langley’s Arkady conjures the textures of contemporary London, in a new review at Full Stop:

The characters make use of what they can scavenge — Frank and Jackson eat on Leonard’s bed for want of a dinner table; a member of the Red Citadel builds a wall out of “junk and salvaged scrap” to keep the police at bay — and the links they forge come across as similarly thrown together. They experiment with a way of life until it gives out, then move on to the next one.

Langley’s description of this condition is compelling. The last decade or so of British history runs through Arkady almost subliminally in glancing references to “burning tower blocks” and workers exiting offices with “cardboard boxes filled with rulers, mugs, photos, files.” His style tends toward quick successions of visual details. A typical couple of sentences goes like this: “They emerge into the shadow of a half-built tower. Bundles of steel beams swing, glinting weightlessly mid-air. Glass panes flash in the rising light. Frank fixes his gaze to the pavement. Fissures branch like lightning through the slabs. A stupid thought occurs to him.” This approach is faithful to the characters’ fast-paced movement through scattered places and models for living. Once in a while Langley’s imagistic prose becomes too lush. He sometimes piles on elaborate similes: ripped plastic is “twisted and torn like surfboards washed up by a tidal wave,” pavements teem “like virulent petri dishes.” But more often the book successfully approximates what it feels like to live in a “media environment” characterized by rapidly administered shocks of fragmentary, discontinuous information.