A London Address

Throughout 2012, the Roi des Belges was occupied by a series of international writers and thinkers who spent four nights on board the boat with the same fluid brief: think about London in 2012 and its place in the world more than a century after Conrad’s terrifying dissection of the mindset of empire. At the end of their stay, each writer made an audio recording of the material they had written.

A London Address: the Artangel Essays is a publication of collected texts and transcripts. It is available to purchase via Amazon and Waterstones. A playlist of all recordings made in A Room for London can also be listened to on SoundCloud.


Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Remember the Future

Our favourite novels are like buildings we know well: who lives where, where do which stairs lead, how to reach the basement.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Image: Photograph by Charles Hosea

Jeanette Winterson, A Place Before the Flood

It is 2:15am. The police-boat passes.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Sven Lindqvist, Bed and Breakfast

Tell me what will happen when the majority of mankind has become technologically superfluous.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Caryl Phillips, A Bend in the River

I had anticipated endless lines of people shuffling across bridges to the left and to the right with, as Eliot suggests, each man fixing his eyes before his feet and silently going about his business.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Maya Jasanoff, A River Passage

When Joseph Conrad joined the British merchant marine in the 1870s, Europeans had charted the coastlines that had eluded them just a century or two before. Nobody any longer rendered California as an island, or left off the western half of Australia.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Michael Ondaatje, A Port Accent

Now and then the ship I was writing about would dock at Aden or Port Said, and the talk in those ports would be not so much the language of the country but a language based on commerce and transport.

Lines from T. Shanaathanan's The Incomplete Thombu, Julius Caesar, Joseph Conrad, and the Mohandas Gandhi fan-historian website were used in this piece, with thanks.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Alain Mabanckou, London’s Heart of Darkness

I’m lying down, holding a copy of Heart of Darkness in French, because it’s difficult for me to understand all the English nautical terms used by the author. Conrad isn’t far, as he watches me turn the pages.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Geoff Dyer, Some Stories, with Annotations

Like Death in Venice or The Great Gatsby, Heart of Darkness is not just a book but a modern myth – everyone has read it, even if they have not done so personally. The actual book is far stranger than accounts of it sometimes suggest.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Teju Cole, Natives on a Boat

The faint hiss of champagne being poured. The clink of glasses. Far below us was the muttering obscurity of the East River and beyond it, the borough of Queens, glimmering in the dark.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Ahdaf Soueif, Waiting for the Flood

How English do I feel, I’m asked. And the answer is, not at all. But I feel comfortable.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Kamila Shamsie, A Room, With a View, of One’s Own

Is it strange – or not at all strange – that travel writing has traditionally been so strongly associated with women but exploration is seen as a man’s game? On this ship going nowhere, as I write, I am aware of two women who grew up in purdah, and first left that world of seclusion behind in order to travel.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.

Adonis, Solo in the River Thames Orchestra

The Thames rolls, rolling roped to its myths.

 (In English and Arabic)

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud in English and Arabic.

Colm Tóibín, Boats

We had tied up at Deptford at the usual place close to the small culvert, having come in an hour earlier than expected.

Also available to listen to on SoundCloud.