Budden’s new book London Incognita is a mighty achievement: a sequence of obsessive encounters with London, a city that both overwhelms with its presence and can only be approached in imagination.
The stories are a fermenting brew of boisterous decline, London streets, rats, chain outlets, the slant of overpasses, a babble of voices, gentrification, lost histories, ex-punks, post-punks, and retail workers and homeless, the shadow of Grenfell tower, and unspeakable horrors.
Let’s take one piece – the shortest – Staples Corner and How we can Know it. Our narrator is on the 266 bus to the Currys / PC World outlet at Staples Corner to replace a laptop stolen the day before. This utterly mundane shopping trip is transmogrified into a visionary/ontological total encounter with the reality of Staples Corner. That reality encompasses both the emotional impact and the history of the location, the immersion in an inhuman architecture, and the attempt to make human contact.