Gillian Tindall The Tunnel Through TimeMatthew and I have been having a week off work this week: we didn’t go anywhere, but had a good rest and got a load of useful stuff done in the bits between resting and (of course) reading: a lightshade in the bathroom! Three computer carcases gone to the recycling centre! Slightly complicated holiday booked for later in the year! I’m caught up with the blogs I read! I took the attached picture to prove I did sit out in the garden reading – we’ve had a bit of rain just now and the boiling hot weather did calm down a bit, which was a relief.

I bought this book in the Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance last October (yes, I’m much less than a year behind right now – hooray!) – it’s a lovely independent bookshop and I always try to buy something there when I’m down.

Gillian Tindall – “The Tunnel Through Time”

(02 October 2017 – Edge of the World Bookshop, Penzance)

I picked this up on the strength of having enjoyed the author’s “Celestine: Voices from a French Village” (read and reviewed 8 years ago when my reviews were much shorter) and liking a train book and a London book, so the combination seemed perfect. Subtitled “A New Route for an Old London Journey”, it promised to be a book about the new Crossrail route (not the same as the London Overground, which I had for some reason not entirely grasped) but in fact dots around particular areas and shorter journeys from history that Crossrail now covers, but leaving out some because there is either not enough history there (the Paddington area and Docklands) or there’s been too MUCH history and writing about it (the Brick Lane area). This makes it feel a bit piecemeal and also confusing, as it folds back on itself a few times, comes back to an area chapters afterwards and/or jumps backwards and forwards in time. Then we come to this bit at the end of Chapter V, about Liverpool Street, which seemed overly mysterious and also not in keeping with the endless change and cycles of London:

A further generation has passed, and now at last Crossrail has arrived and the forgotten dead have, in a fragmented sense, lived again. It has been their last appearance. (p. 93)

There was a lot of interest in the book – it explained well that it’s the digging for the new ticket halls that has exposed the most archaeology, covered the history of the Tube and train lines of London (although obviously lots of other books do that, too) and explained just what’s been going on at the Oxford Street end of Tottenham Court Road – there’s a great map of that area and of Covent Garden in the 1880s which was fascinating. It’s also very good on bringing out the whole history of a place in a paragraph, for example Paul Pindar’s house, which passed from private dwelling to pub, ending up memorialised only in the name of a pedestrian walkway through a car park near the Broadgate development (this is what makes the above quotation seem odd, as she’s all about the endless cycles of development and change).

However, I would say that, map of London in the front and contrasting early and late maps of individual areas notwithstanding, you do kind of need to be able to either hold a map of London and an idea of the layout of the Tube lines and overground in your head or be comfortable constantly referring to them.

There’s a lot about history “porn” and misunderstandings espoused by successive generations of Londoners and writers, whether that’s the casting back to the good old days or misrememberings of houses and history, the influence of World War I on writer’s images of peacetime London or many other views of the city and its history. The author is also scathing about modern planning disasters as well as older destructions. So there’s a lot to say in this book, but it’s said maybe at the expense of clarity.

This was Book #7 in my 20BooksofSummer project.


I’m currently a third of the way through “The Red and the Green”, this month’s Iris Murdoch. It’s an odd one, both better and worse than I remembered. Review should come soon, I hope. Then it’s on to Henry II before I get back to 20Books with “Born to Run”. At least I’m keeping up with my reviews and with reading other people’s blogs. How are your book challenges going?