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Reviewed by Carine Engelbrecht for Readers' Favorite
In London and Its Genius Loci, Philipp Röttgers takes the reader on a tour of London like no other. The approach is two-fold. As Röttgers explores contemporary London and muses upon her historical quirks, he also attempts to detect less corporeal influences. He speculates about how her structure and shadows are touched by the tragedies they bore witness to and reimagined by the stories invented to explain them. Step by step, word by word, he calls up an imagined landscape that superimposes over what we know and learn of the physical London. It begins in the East End, the epi-center of Jack the Ripper's reign of terror. There is a side order of likely suspects and other Victorian killers before we move on to the buildings of Nicholas Hawksmoor and visit the place where east meets west and the doorstep of Sherlock Holmes, among others. The quest for clues ultimately leads into the city's fictional doppelgangers, as defined by Peter Ackroyd, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Ben Aaronovitch.
Like London itself, the vastness of the topic is overwhelming and the term genius loci itself resists definition. At times it is as ephemeral as the fog. Perhaps it is different for each individual, which is why it's so vital that Röttgers shares his own experience of London in a series of detailed self-guided tours. The undercurrent of misogyny at the heart of so many portrayals of London could (and should) make you uncomfortable, but the author links it to a more primordial struggle - that of Mother Nature against Father Progress, of chaos against order. By implication, London's authors become co-creators of its psychic impact on the consciousness of mankind. Although not always an easy read, London and Its Genius Loci by Philipp Röttgers is likely to stay with you. Its reasoning will slip into your mind. It will challenge you to continue applying its conclusions to other stories of London. It will feel as if you've been let into a secret world which you can never again unsee.