Book reviews: A New Kind Of Bleak | China In Ten Words

MICHAEL KERRIGAN gives his verdict on this week’s book releases

A New Kind of Bleak

by Owen Hatherley

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(Verso, £20)

Rating: *****

‘If you seek his monument, look around,’ reads Wren’s epitaph in St Paul’s; the same might be said for us in 21st-century Britain. It’s in town planning that airy notions such as community, localism, the Big Society and compassionate conservatism find a habitation. Meanwhile, schemes set in motion under Blair and Brown are in some cases only now coming to completion in a Britain of regeneration projects, retail parks and PFI’s. Owen Hatherley makes his left-wing sympathies clear in these urban rides, which include stops in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Cumbernauld (he finds both dismal warnings and signs of hope in Scotland). He’s worth reading, though, whatever your politics: he’s sharp and specific in his criticisms – and in his appreciations, for amidst his polemic he’s admirably open-minded – even liberal.

l Owen Hatherley is at the Edinburgh book festival on 26 August.

China in Ten Words

by Yu Hua

(Duckworth, £16.99)

Rating: *****

Tradition is important in China but one of the most important traditions is that of trash-and-burn. Yu Hua sees the spirit of the Red Guards in the buccaneering capitalists of today. Market socialism isn’t some cop-out into which the People’s Republic has subsided, but a radical venture. This extraordinary book approaches the subject through ten key words; how their meaning has changed or stayed the same. Shot through with memoir, Yu Hua describes a revolution that jars the western reader on every page and drives home the differences that make China seem so alien.