Es­tu­ary: Out from Lon­don to the Sea

The Guardian - Review - - Non-fiction - by Rachel Licht­en­stein (Pen­guin, £9.99) Blake Mor­ri­son

Part ur­ban-in­dus­trial sprawl, part wild marsh­land, the Thames es­tu­ary is a place of sub­ver­sive cul­tural en­ergy, home to Dick­ens’s Mag­witch and the band Dr Feel­good. Through her trav­els, in­ter­views and re­searches, Licht­en­stein re­stores its edgy pride and cel­e­brates its muddy beauty. She talks to tug­men, dock work­ers, or­nithol­o­gists and mud­lark­ers; takes part in a Thames barge race; walks the Broomway on Foul­ness, “Bri­tain’s most dan­ger­ous path”; gets tossed around in a cock­le­boat; and sam­ples mud cola, a drink made from es­tu­ary slime. She is a gen­er­ous lis­tener – a dili­gent reader, too. Rather than im­pose her­self on the land­scape, she lets it seep into her psy­che. Within the Thames es­tu­ary, there’s a his­tory of law­less­ness. It’s in­scribed in lo­cal place names (Dead Man’s Is­land, Bed­lams Bot­tom, Hor­rid Hill, Slaugh­ter­house Point) and per­sists in smug­gling, whether of drugs or asy­lum seek­ers. Licht­en­stein’s prose reads flatly at times, but she’s an ap­peal­ing guide: rather than come with prior knowl­edge, she learns as she goes along, and we learn with her.

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