Tag Archives: Birkbeck

My London Library: No 5 – Night Haunts

  • Title Night Haunts by Sukhdev Sandhu (Verso, 2006)
  • Cost Free
  • Bought from Sent by publisher
  • Genre Contemporary non-fiction; flaneur

At a time when London writing has been dominated by pop historians and psychogeographers, it’s worth noting that the best two London books of recent years are very different beasts.  One of these is Night Haunts, a thoughtful study of the modern London night, commissioned by Artangel, written by Sukhdev Sandhu, and modelled on a similar book by the great London writer, HV Morton. (Sandhu gives a talk about Night Haunts this Friday at Birkbeck.)

Night Haunts first emerged as a beautiful website before appearing in short but sweet printed form. The conceit was simple. As the sub-title explained, it was ‘a journey through the London night’ in which Sandhu explored and observed London’s nocturnal operations, spending evenings with cleaners, pilots, flushers, bargers, fox-hunters, cabbies, exorcists and graffiti artists.

What emerged was an elegant and perceptive portrait of what happens in London while we are asleep, with Sandhu’s own hands-on experience giving it a resonance far greater than the whimsical dilettantism encouraged by the self-indulgent psychogeography movement. 

  • Best bit There’s a marvellous scene early on which sets the tone. Sandhu is on a night-time police helicopter flight over London and writes evocatively of the sleeping city from the air, a passage which concludes with the wonderfully implausible line ‘One pilot describes Croydon as “an oasis of high-rise buildings, sitting there like downtown Dallas”.’
  • Verdict The best book of its kind for decades.