Literature, Reviews

Review: Attlee, Isolarion

jacket imageReviews of James Attlee’s Isolarion: A Different Oxford Journey have flooded the UK periodicals recently. Attlee’s book is an engaging chronicle of his unusual pilgrimage down Oxford’s Cowley Road—a bustling multi-ethnic side street not more than a few blocks from his own doorstep.
It’s quite telling of the author’s rhetorical prowess and insight that the his depiction of this decidedly lesser-known thoroughfare in his hometown has become such a a smash hit. Especially amongst so many of his fellow Brits who, before Attlee’s book, probably never knew such a diamond in the rough existed, let alone right in their own back yards. (Or should that be “in their own gardens”? Or maybe “just beyond their gardens”?)
In the past ten days the book has received some outstanding reviews from the Times, the Financial Times, as well as the Spectator magazine. Here’s a sampling of what the reviewers are saying:
“[Cowley Road] remains one of the last three Oxford thoroughfares with a bit of life in it. For the time being, before the rents shoot up and the developers triumph, it is where you go for foreign fruit, halal meat, exotic dry goods, cheaper domestic wares, direct calls to Dakkar, the Authentic Flavour of Kurdistan and 17 other lands, and all the amenities floating in the wake of the immigration quinquireme. As well as the sex shops, the postcard and stamp specialist, the hard-shell socialism, the Honest Stationery, and the sound of Urdu, Bengali, Chunga Chunga (fidget freezin’ crazy breakin’ funkin’ beats), and of Imperial Leisure (supported by Random Character and Drunken Uncle Bungle); not forgetting Inflatable Buddha. As [James Attlee] asks, ‘Why make a journey to the other side of the world when the world has come to you?’”
Eric Christiansen Spectator
“[Reading Attlee’s book], I often found myself thinking: ‘Hang on a minute. How did we get on to this?’ But seldom in a spirit of irritation, because the writing is so good: dildos of varying sizes are racked against the wall in a sex shop ‘like Kalashnikovs for sale on an Afghan market stall.’ Attlee comes across as a charming daydreamer, with a mind ever open to serendipity: ‘I have a theory that the discarded newspaper often contains more interesting news than the one purchased in the normal way.’”
Andrew Martin Times
Isolarion, despite its title, is about engagement. I want to hand out copies of this book to everyone who tells me that moving to a middle-class suburb would be ‘better’ for my inner-city children. Attlee shows the hidden beauty of the plural society: ‘To put it simply, this is what I love about the moment in history I inhabit.’”
Isabel Berwick Financial Times
Read an excerpt from the book.