Book Review: London Unfurled by Matteo Pericoli

Guest reviewer Stephanie Thomson falls in love with an unusual tribute to London, and reckons it’s a perfect Christmas gift…

How do you describe love at first sight? It’s relatively straightforward to explain how and when it happens, but the ‘why’ is more elusive.

I fell in love with London 26 years ago, riding in a black cab from Victoria Station to a cheap hotel in Paddington. The buildings and parks I passed were alien to me and I didn’t understand anything about what it was like to live here – even if I could live here – but none of that mattered. I knew the city belonged to me just as surely as I belonged to it.

I fell in love with London Unfurled (Picador) a month ago, when a copy sent to my workplace landed on my desk to review. Again, what it is is easy to explain: a single page, 25-feet long, folded accordion-style into a slipcase. Forming a long, elegant stripe on one side of the page is an intricate, black-and-white drawing of the landscape along the north bank of the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge to the Millennium Dome. The south side of the river is on the reverse side of the page. Also in the slipcase is a small booklet with a key to landmarks, two very subjective and personal essays by fellow London-lovers Iain Sinclair and Will Self, as well as an afterword by the artist, Italian-born Matteo Pericoli.

As it once was for me, London was a foreign city to Pericoli when he first began to draw it. As he admits, ‘My complete lack of knowledge helped me to truly see everything for the first time.’ And perhaps this is why he’s managed to capture something of the city that’s difficult to describe – the way it can seem strikingly streamlined, yet is full of baroque detail. The way its permanence belies its constantly changing landscape. The way it is public, yet deeply personal; ugly, yet exquisite.

This is the book for the lovers on your gift list – the lovers of design or art, of beautiful objects, of curiosities and picture books. It’s also the book for any jaded Londoners you know who are waiting to fall in love…Did I leave anyone out? Give them a copy, too.

Stephanie Thomson is an expatriate American living in London. She is a professional sub editor and lover of words – particularly when they are spelt correctly.
Love reading? Want free books? Join The Dabbler Book Club here – it’s free…
Share This Post

About Author Profile: Guest'

2 thoughts on “Book Review: London Unfurled by Matteo Pericoli

    November 24, 2011 at 07:44

    It sounds glorious, and takes one back to John Tallis’ London Street Views (c1850) or, even earlier, to the first London map, by Agas in 1564, which dealt with a city small enough to depict, or so it seems, each individual building.

  2. Gaw
    November 24, 2011 at 16:22

    I’m sure I read, and enjoyed, the accompanying essays in one of the weekend papers, or at least excerpts.

    It sounds an intriguing work and curiosity will probably have to be satisfied. I wonder if it would go on a wall? Around a room, presumably. And I suppose you’d have to buy two to get both banks up there. It sounds like something you’d find in a basement antechamber at Sir John Soane’s house.

Comments are closed.