Review – The Gold Machine by Iain Sinclair

From the publisher:

‘In The Gold Machine, Iain Sinclair and his daughter travel through Peru, guided by – and in reaction to – an ill-fated colonial expedition led by his great-grandfather, Arthur Sinclair. The incursions of Catholic bounty hunters and Adventist missionaries are contrasted with today’s ecotourists and short-cut vision seekers. The family history of a displaced Scottish highlander fades into the brutal reality of a major land grab. The historic thirst for gold and the establishment of sprawling coffee plantations leave terrible wounds on virgin territory.

‘What might once have been portrayed as an intrepid adventure is transformed into a shocking tale of the violated rights of indigenous people, secret dealings between London finance and Peruvian government, and the collusion of the church in colonial expansion. In Sinclair’s haunting prose, no place escapes its past, and nor can we.’

The first Iain Sinclair book that I read was 2002’s London Orbital, and the first of his books that I bought on publication was The Last London (2017). The Gold Machine probably sits between the two in terms of its accessibility for the general reader, but all three books exhibit Sinclair’s unique style.

When I first read that The Gold Machine was to be about a journey to Peru, part of me was a little disappointed that the author’s usual London territory was to be set aside. However, it is always interesting to see Sinclair’s take on places beyond his usual haunts, and the spectre of London is never far beneath the surface.

The Gold Machine is, in some respects, Iain Sinclair’s most personal book. The journey in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, with daughter Farne (whose research uncovers some difficult truths) and film-maker Grant Gee, enables him to (mostly) come to terms with a narrative that has evidently haunted him for a long time, and to gain at least partial closure.

This is a richly atmospheric, often dark book, which contains the usual array of cultural references and interconnections. Inevitably there will be people who will purchase it expecting some sort of generic travel/history tome. It’s something much more than that. For me, Sinclair’s books are rarely a straightforward read, but my perseverance is always rewarded.

If you are a fan of Iain Sinclair’s work, you can purchase The Gold Machine safe in the knowledge that, even though the setting is radically different, there is a sense of continuity with his previous books. If you haven’t read anything by him before, this is as good a place to start as any, but don’t expect an easy read!