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London Incognita Gary Budden Main

"London Incognita" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Dead Ink Books

london incognita gary budden poster large

Written by Gary Budden
2020, 320 pages, Fiction
Released on 1st October, 2020

Review:

I stumbled upon the late D.A. Northwood’s striking Judderman a couple of years ago when the novella was originally published by the Eden Book Society. Although it was not exactly a secret, Gary Budden was later ‘outed’ as the author around the time the piece was deservedly nominated for a prestigious Shirley Jackson Award. Northwood may well have died fictionally in 1982, but Budden is going strong and when not writing, is involved with indie press Influx. Although London Incognita will not be to all tastes, it remains a hallucinogenic (often bad) trip into the underside and lesser-known areas of London and you certainly will not find the tourist hotspots such as Buckingham Palace or Madame Tussauds. Alternatively, it is more interested in dilapidated buildings, decay, and the changing urban landscape, a style which has been called ‘Landscape Punk’, a subject Gary Budden has written about in the past.

This is experimental writing, weird fiction rather than horror, and even though I enjoyed it tremendously, I am still not entirely sure I understood everything, but perhaps the reader is not supposed to. I have now read the centrepiece of the collection, the eighty-page Judderman, twice and if you were to ask me to reveal what the ‘Judderman’ is in a single sentence, I would struggle to nail it. Perhaps he is best described as a mythical being which lurks in the London shadows and becomes real to those who believe in him, or others in pain or those who might not be missed should disappear. Effectively, the Judderman is attracted to those who inhabit the darkness and the alleyways.  99% of the London population would go about their business without ever coming across this creature which feasts on disappointment, violence, and sickness. Set in 1972, the story is framed around Gary, who is looking for his brother, who he suspects is a victim of the Judderman. Interestingly, this supernatural being (or whatever he is) vibrates throughout the collection, in memories, whispers, dreams and slogans on walls. It is not to be missed.

Make sure you read the collection in the order in which it is presented, as once Judderman is done and dusted, most of the other stories have contemporary settings with cross-referencing of characters, musical references, locations and varied illuded references to what London Incognita might actually be. Many are only a few pages, and although a few had me scratching my head, others are vaguely pretentious, for the most part I enjoyed them, with some highly captivating. A range are written in the third person, whilst many are in the first and you might also wonder whether this “I” narrative is always the same person. Or perhaps it does not matter, many of the second half of the collection certainly seem to follow the same thread and interconnected theme.

I have lived in London since 1994, which is now a longer chunk of time than in my Scottish homeland, so I connected strongly with the central London theme of London Incognita. Although many other readers will not feel this bond as strongly as I, it might still suck them in. They may not be interested in, for example, the pubs or music venues which were destroyed when the new Crossrail train service was built. I feel Gary Budden’s pain at the loss of cultural landmarks, such as the legendary London Astoria music venue, and the many old pubs which have either been turned into Costa Coffee outlets or Tesco Express shops. Potential American readers will not know what Budden is on about, but they may empathise with his loss, which is revisited throughout the text. Combined, the stories dropped more place names that I have ever seen in a collection and, again, I found this endearing, as I have visited many of them to watch obscure bands in obscurer pubs; other readers might not feel the same way. Some of the stories featured revisiting old haunts, with the original Judderman novella published by the Eden Book Society, noting that D.A. Northwood died in Tottenham. If Budden hails from the same location as his alter-ego then perhaps we drank in the same fine establishments in the mid-’90s when I also lived in Tottenham. My favourite, a huge Irish pub call The Mitre, is now a Tesco Express shop, Budden/Northwood would hate it.

There is a very cool musical vibe threaded through the stories. Heck, Budden and I may well have also been to many of the same punk, hardcore and indie gigs. Lots of the bands mentioned are very obscure, depending on what you listen to, from the well-known post-hardcore giants Fugazi to the legendary Hard Skin, whom I hoped to watch again in December until Covid-19 put paid to that show. One of my favourite stories, 'I Precede Myself', is about a guy obsessively trying to track down a rare vinyl of a band called ‘Scarp’ which he once owned but later sold when he was strapped for cash. Many of the bands mentioned in the story are real, whilst Scarp is fictional. This was another theme which reoccurrs, the blending of fiction and fact. And if you do not know who the bands are, perhaps you might be none the wiser. This is a great story though, about growing older and revisiting the glory days of your youth and asking the question; ‘Should your favourite band ever reform?’ A very good question indeed.

The collection features multiple snapshots of pub life, streets, journeys, conversations and has a deep sense of melancholy threaded throughout proceedings. An outstanding example would be 'Sky City', about a guy (Mick) who works at evicting people from their properties and enjoys his work until he suffers a seismic shift of thought after finding something in a flat he forced entry into. This story is credited to ‘Melissa Eider’, who plays a greater part in the second half of the collection and narrates some of it.

Fanzine culture connects the stories related to Melissa in the second half. When she was nineteen, she started a fanzine called ‘Magazine Burns’, which is based around music and underground London culture. Over the years her publication built a cult reputation with ‘Magnesium Burns: Two Decades in the Underground Capital 1999-2019’ about to be released. I found this thread to be fascinating, as my interest in fanzines goes back to the 1980s; Melissa’s early issues were being traded for three figure sums. This is very believable, as I sold the early issues of the Wrapped in Plastic fanzine (Twin Peaks) and Norma K (Traci Lords) for similar amounts, which predated 1999 by some years. It is amazing that such cut-and-paste home DIY productions are now so valuable. Melissa’s story also connects to the ‘Scarp’ band and heads all the way back to the Judderman himself.

There is much to admire in London Incognita and although I doubt it will have tourists flocking to Blackheath, Morden, or New Cross Gate, the way in which it documents London is refreshing and from a perspective which is both slightly off-kilter and unnerving. Is there genuinely a story lurking behind every dustbin or memory behind every boarded-up pub? Who knows, but Gary Budden does a fine job at bringing an alternative version of this great city of London to life, but watch out for the Judderman!

Grades:

Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Writer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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