James Francken

  • Ring Road: There’s No Place like Home by Ian Sansom
    Fourth Estate, 388 pp, £12.99, April 2004, ISBN 0 00 715653 7

At the tail-end of 2000, Ian Sansom decided to move from London to a small town in County Down. He had half expected friends to dismiss his plan as a backwoods adventure, and was surprised when they said they felt the lure of the place. Sansom tells the story of moving house, and makes sense of his friends’ enthusiasm, in a typically buoyant essay, ‘Where Do We Live?’[*] In the English imagination, he argues, Ireland ‘remains a place of refuge and fantasy’. It is one of those destinations – ‘like the South of France before Peter Mayle, and Tuscany before champagne socialists’ – which, it is assumed, is ‘unspoilt by the American coffee shops and the malls and the ring roads that have ruined Arnoldian England’. But as Sansom discovers, the Ireland of middle-class English fantasy doesn’t exist. His nondescript new town, just outside Belfast, boasts a Tesco, a heritage centre and a ring road.

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[*] New Writing 12, edited by Diran Adebayo, Blake Morrison and Jane Rogers (Picador, 331 pp., £7.99, October 2003, 0 330 48598 9).