What is it like to be an architect moving among the meeting of old an new that is the city of London? Imagine the dialogue that would occur in the mind of a man whose training is to build.
First I would like to address what it is to create something, to build up something from scratch. The be an architect is to conceive of a space. This space is created with a purpose, a function. It can be political, personal, communal, but ultimately it is a concrete place that will be made into a space by the objects and people within its walls. It seems a heavy task, especially in London, to create a new building, a new opportunity, a new space. In the novel Lively writes, “This city,” said Matthew, “is entirely in the mind. It is a construct of the memory and of the intellect. Without you and me it hasn’t got a chance.” Matthew goes on to explain that, “significance is in the eye of the beholder.” London is tradition intermixed with the new but how is this important unless the people that surround this history and tradition treat it as such. The architect in this novel is surrounded by St. Paul’s and its glory, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament with their stately existence. He is confronted with the history and transnational identity of the docklands and as a creator of the new, he must try to achieve a place in a world that values the old.
Matthew, struggling with a divorce, the loss of love, and a complete revamp of what it is to be a father, is confronted with what can be sacrificed for success, development and expansion of wealth. The docklands are the central space for these questions. What is the significance of the setting of the docks of London? If you look back into history you can see that the docklands was the heartbeat of London. It is a place for trade, bringing in goods from all around the world and providing London with comfort and a new, worldly identity.
In the book there are many moments of reflection and contemplation while walking through the streets of London. Reflection on reality and unreality as well as the what is present and what is past and how those all intersect. In the novel, Matthew’s young daughter poses an intriguing idea.
“Jane says, ‘Where are you when I’m at Mum’s house?”
Matthew, startled and wary, abandons his paper. ‘I’m at my office. Or here in he flat. Or seeing somebody about something.’
She turns from the window to face him. “That’s not what I mean,’ she cries. She is frustrated and intent. ‘I mean — I can’t see you, I can only think you, so you aren’t there.’”
This is fascinating to me that Lively uses a child’s innocent and curious mind to capture one of the primary themes of the book. Perception of the things around us. It is titled City of the Mind for a reason! Matthew’s young daughter asks where someone or something is when they aren’t in sight. She asks the impossible question of what existence in the mind is. Does her father carry on when she can’t see him in front of her? Does Matthew’s London only exist in his mind?