Top London Fiction - 'London Revenant' by Conrad Williams

"I could feel its suck; it was a starving, ruined baby, looking for nourishment from any quarter. Defiled, indiscriminate, blind. It devoured us all, digested us in its poisonous juices for years and then spat out the bones."

'London Revenant' is a deeply personal novel by British fantasist Conrad Williams, best known for his more overt horror, but here turning his attentions to the capital that evidently fascinates him so much. A lean book at 227 pages but cramming more ideas and plot twists in than a book three times it size, Williams presents us with the story of Adam, a young man from Northern England drawn like so many others to the capital, trying to eke out an existence and find a place in the city. A narcoleptic, Adam's story interweaves with a murderer pushing commuters under tube trains, a hidden race of underground people who inhabit the abandoned sections of the tube network, a lost city named Beneothan, hidden parts of London not found in any A-Z, and an apocalyptic earthquake.

All of this sounds like overegging the omelette but Williams deftly handles all of these different elements creating simultaneously a very personal story of a young man trying to find his feet and a fable of a decaying city full of rotting magic, hidden horrors, a metropolis that feeds on its inhabitants, tapping in to our fear and wonder of the tunnels that run beneath the city. The story of the murderer (The Pusher) and Adam become interweaved as a London is brought low by a seismic earthquake that utterly alters the city's topography; what is impressive is how the author manages to keep this all rooted in a reality of lunchtime pints, Big Issue sellers, dirty, rainy streets and the daily commute.

Williams is occupying a territory somewhere between the psychogeographic works of Iain Sinclair, with its obsession with London geography, and M John Harrison's 'Viriconium' works, with a certain kinship to other novels focused on subterranean London such as Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere' and China Mieville's 'Un Lun Dun'. However it is the personal, obviously autobiographical touch, that makes this novel stand out - Williams' blend of the banal realities of the city with the best kind of dark fantastic horror really reflect, for me at least, what London can be like. Highly recommended.