Thursday 4 April 2013

'What We Talk About When We Talk About the Tube' by John Lanchester

To celebrate 150 years of the London Underground Penguin produced a series of books, one for each line of the Underground, by various well respected authors. They are short books, about the right length to read one on a day’s worth of commute, perfect. I love the idea of these books and plan to read all of them (they’ll look pretty on my bookshelf as well which is always a bonus). I started with the book inspired by the District Line, What We Talk About When We Talk About the Tube by John Lanchester.

Lanchester takes a fragmental approach, explaining that there is not one singular experience of the Tube (or should that be the Underground; if you don’t think there’s a difference, read this book). He talks about the broad socio-economic spread that is encompassed by the District line, but also about how the geography of London is defined by the Underground, that it would be a drastically different place if a different form of infrastructure had become dominant. For this we have the Victorians to thank. They were innovative and ambitious, and created the London Underground far before other capital cities around the world undertook such a task. There is a short homage to the Victorians and all they did for London which I particularly enjoyed.

Overall a fascinating book filled with personal anecdotes, musings on the importance of the Underground in the lives of those who live in London, the experience of the drivers, and so much more. It made me think, and I learned a fair few interesting facts from reading this. It also made me slightly uneasy about travelling along some of the tunnels on the network, so be warned.