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There will always be an England, no doubt, but what sort of England will it be? Cohn takes a long wild ride through a country he calls the Republic - a nation within a nation, populated by the many millions who have either fallen out of the Britannic mainstream, or chosen to jump. He meets the rising stars of a new culture, and also the casualties. Their collected stories, both weird and wonderful, combine to form a tapestry quite unlike any notion of England that has ever existed before. It is a land made up, among others, of outlaws and insurgents, rampaging natives, second-generation immigrants, visionaries, born-agains, football fans, fetishists, gays, New Age travellers, anarchists, DJs, street-fighters, graffiti artists Rastas, Odinists, Elvis impersonators, fire-swallowers and even the Antichrist. Loud and angry, and charged with furious energy, their voices define a world cut loose from tradition and all certainty. Gone bananas, in fact. Nik Cohn's republic may not be the only England out there. But it's the most vivid.
England's contemporary bohemians, tramps and even thieves get an exciting, sympathetic set of quick portraits in Cohn's vivid book-length essay. Long known for his writings on early rock and roll, novelist Cohn (Need) travels to urban centers from Brighton to Newcastle and around the countryside in search of "ravellers and techno freaks... bikers, fetishists, faith healers, visionaries, squatters, druggies, lunatics and street heroes." He wrote of a similar excursion to New York City's demimonde in Heart of the World. Cohn discovers an ideal, indefatigable road-trip companion in Mary Carson, for whom "every act is a life-or-death drama." Together they observe and interview London football hooligans; an elegant West Indian modern Falstaff; a penniless woman who roams Bristol obsessively seeking her ex-lover; Cedric Reeve, who sailed to Shanghai in a junk he built himself while suffering from MS; the wonderful transgendered Grace, "the Marlene Dietrich of Cowley"; young runaway Megan, an aspiring "world champion kick boxer"; a priestess of Odin; Surgeon, the hardworking king of Birmingham techno-music; and a few dozen other decidedly individual individuals. Deejay Bobby Friction, the coolest kid in London's all-Asian Hounslow, asks Cohn, "Am I to be eclipsed? Or do I shine?" With appealing descriptions of often appalling conditions, Cohn invokes a left-wing agenda reminiscent of Orwell's Road to Wigan Pier; closer parallels lie in more recent writing about the U.K.'s pre- and post-punk undergrounds. Fans of Iain Sinclair and Neil Gaiman, or even Trainspotting, will find the Derry native's tour of England equally captivating.