Nik Cohn Market (Secker & Warburg, 1965)

‘His nose is particularly keen, and he has no intention of letting us forget that urine and intercourse are of the essence of everyday life. The style is hip, hectic, American-orientated; but Mr Cohn’s stumbling prodigality would make less than a warm response ungenerous.’

Montague Haltrecht, The Sunday Times (November 21, 1965), 33.

 

There’s no overarching story, no central character, no defining event. The market is the place where lives flow, eddy and then pass on. Relationships and networks are defined in terms of exchange; grafted, bartered, borrowed, stolen, bought and sold. Money isn’t given it is taken. Whatever is being exchanged in the market’s stalls and streets, the public house, the pub, is the space where those transactions are finally adjudicated. Alcohol lubricates every exchange, every trade. The market is sodden with beer, wine and spirits. In these dingy places, there are no moments of transcendence or even a carnivalesque pretence of escape, just the temporary distraction of P.J. Proby on a jukebox, the sound and lights of a pinball machine or the promises found in the racing papers. The drudgery of life is mediated through bad sex and another bottle.

Blind drunk; only on her feet by instinct, stumbling and weaving, lurching across the corridor – her stagger is a bad caricature of walking. Her hair is straggling down into her eyes, and she wears so much running paint, mascara, her face looks like an oil painting that someone smudged over with a mop.

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How many 19 year-olds would be capable of writing this regardless of who their mum and dad was?

How many 19 year-olds would be capable of writing this regardless of who their mum and dad was?