Book review: Tales of Two Londons – Stories From a Fractured City

Britain has seldom been so divided. There are chasms that exist between the left and the right, gender and age divides and increasingly notable wealth disparities. And if you want a microcosm of that, few places evidence it as potently as London.

London today is embattled as rarely before in peacetime. On one side the city has flourished, cementing its standing as a world leader in business and culture. On the other, poverty remains endemic, homelessness and the privations of low paid work are evident everywhere, gang violence is rampant, and the burnt-out hulk of the Grenfell Tower housing block stands as an ugly reminder that, even in the wealthiest areas, inequality can be so acute as to be murderous.

That is the pretext in which Claire Armitstead embarked on her book Tales of Two Londons, which compiles a rich collection of fiction, reportage and poetry to capture the schisms defining the contemporary city. In a metropolis with nearly 40 per cent of its population born outside the country, the book eschews what Armitstead labels a “tyranny of tone,” emphasising voices from beyond conventional arenas.

Here, alongside writers with established reputations, we find stories from hitherto unpublished immigrants and refugees, from people working with deprived youth in city, from Kurdish activists, and from tenants groups. Taken together, their stories portray the fabric of the city: its housing, its food, its pubs, its buses, even its graveyards. Above all, this scintillating anthology draws on the rich mélange of people who inhabit today’s London, both lamenting the unequal way the city treats them and celebrating the vibrant urban life their co-existence delivers.

Tales of Two Londons: Stories from a Fractured City is available from OR Books here.

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