Craig Taylor’s Londoners: The Days and Nights Of London Now—As Told By Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, And Long For It is a 400-page-plus attempt to gloss over the city’s current state through oral testimony. The voices are current residents and those who have departed, happy citizens and the extremely disgruntled. Predictably, the most aggrievedly articulate speakers can be great fun. Take Rob de Groot: Like everyone else in the book, his job (antique clock restorer) suggests something (but not everything) about his perspective. Late in the book, he fumes over how horrible London is: “All evil originates here. Well it does, really. I mean… industrialization, capitalism, imperialism, the whole idea of enslaving people for their resources and turning everybody into zombies and robots and, you know, raping the earth and raping the world’s population.”
Londoners is a love letter from a self-confessed obsessive Canadian transplant who “regularly felt lonely, duped, underprepared, faceless, friendless” during his initial stay, but wound up longing to return. The constant underlying theme of his collection of voices is money and demand: Taylor’s subjects emphasize that the city isn’t nearly as dangerous as the tabloids would have it, nor do they fume over how expensive everything is. Still, the question of how to get and earn money—as much as possible for the best results—is perhaps best summed up by hapless financier Tim Turner. “I wear a collection of terrible ties,” he says in a ferociously despairing monologue. “My work is constant. If I describe it in any detail, I will literally have to fall asleep, I will just have to put my head down on the table and sleep and hopefully dream of another kind of job, a job where I never once have to say the word ‘mortgage.’”
A few paragraphs later, Turner is describing dreams in which his subway stop—Elephant & Castle—turns into an actual, attacking elephant and castle. One of the best things about Londoners is how Taylor stitches together quotidian descriptions and flights of casual eloquence from his subjects. In a few virtuoso passages, he tags along with a wholesale grocer and a cop who work through the night; their mini-introductions to private worlds are setpieces in a book which otherwise judiciously dips in and out of shorter testimonies, most of which come in under five pages. Smartly assembled, Londoners doesn’t indulge bores for balance: It’s smartly easy reading, covering a number of class/economic/racial perspectives, skimming over selected pockets of a city surface.