The Suburbanist by Geoff Nicholson

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

I haven’t lived in many places, but all of them so far have been in some sort of suburban setting, though I am fortunate that where I am now I can be in the beautiful Dorset countryside in a few minutes. Believe it or not, the suburbs have been around since the late 19th Century and it was the social reformers back then who gave it the identity that we know now.

Even though lots of people live in them, they are not always seen as a cool place by the intellectuals and avant-gardists who hold them in some contempt. Never unstop why. Nicholson though knows them well and this is almost a eulogy to them. He realises that they have their failings as well as their detractors, but draws his own conclusions as to why these people have those opinions on where he has chosen to live.

He wanders around the suburbs that will take him from the depths of Woking (where I have lived) and Stanley Road, the most famous son of this road is Paul Weller. He talks about the history of these places and the beginnings of the garden cities. He has a rummage on his bookshelves to see what lies in wait for the bookworm and even considers the suburbs as portrayed on the television which inevitable means The Good Life and Terry and June (yes I am old enough to remember that!).

One of the things that set the suburbs apart from the city dweller is the garden and there are a couple of chapters about people’s obsessions with these including discussions about the fine art of topiary. He even pays a visit to Poundbury, the town that is the brainchild of Prince Charles and is located just outside Dorchester. Even though a friend and neighbour has been involved with some of the planning of the properties there, I am not a fan of the place.

I really liked this. Nicolson has a quirky way of looking at the suburbs which I found really appealing. I liked the way that he has woven his personal stories of living in the suburbs in the UK and the USA into this book. An observer looking in would not have that same insight and it feels more authentic because he knows what it is like to live there. If you have read Outskirts by John Grindrod then I think that this would be a book you’d like too.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Ooh, this sounds like a good one! I’ve lived in a village, a couple of inner-city areas, a city centre and now a suburb and I prefer this last, I have to say. I love reading about ribbon developments and the few styles of houses (where I live now has four patterns of Edwardian terrace and two of 30s semi!).

    • Paul

      It is a fascinating subject that most authors tend to ignore. I live in an estate built in the 1970s when they left space between the houses and it is a really nice place to live. Nowdays they cram in as many as they can

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