For Rees, ‘magic, weirdness and terror run through every particle, every atom of the universe’, and overlooked, mundane places fuel his imagination. There’s affection here and an ever-present awareness of human absurdity. The supermarket car park is a foreign country: they do things differently there, and Rees brings it to life in an engaging blend of memoir, history and surreal imaginings: Tesco as heart of darkness — but with more laughs.
Rees wrings a lot out of his wry observations, but sometimes a little too much: when he bundles together Brexit, the US elections and the collapse of his marriage as the landmarks of 2016, the digression makes you long to be back in the car park. He is at his best when he reflects on how architecture and the natural world co-exist (despite all efforts, there remains a “creeping garden beneath us, seeking an opportunity to flourish in the cracks of things we build”), and on how human nature manifests itself in car parks, in crime, indecency, anti-social stunts and lonely wanderings. Petrolheads hold their rallies here; loiterers watch strangers having sex; drivers run amok; shoppers fight over the last discounted sofa. “Who is weirder?”, Rees asks: the people doing these things or him, writing about them?
Perhaps, ultimately, the joke is on me. That this is a funny, perceptive, deeply relevant parable and I am a cretin beyond reach is indeed perfectly feasible. But I rather suspect that beneath the dotty camouflage, Rees is a writer of deep seriousness and political commitment with an urgent message. And if so, he really ought to be marketed as such.