Car Park Life by Gareth E. Rees REVIEW

The strangest book you will read all year, and possibly one of the best.

car park life

The man found in Huddersfield was a Polish scaffolder, a gentle, kind man by all accounts. Nobody knows how he died, but whatever happened in those final hours, that patch of woodland must have felt dark and lonely, a wilderness only metres from civilisation, resonant with traffic noise and visitors coming and going from narrowboats, cars and the hotel. An island in an ocean of people too busy to listen…

Car Park Life is a very strange book to describe. Classed as a psychogeographic work of non-fiction, author Rees charts his travels around the UK as he explores all kinds of retail chain store car parks and writes about them. Yes, car parks. At least to begin with, Rees seems as surprised at this turn of events as we are. His aim is to shine a light on these sprawling features of the urban landscape, which are so common that we barely seem to see them. From his local Morrisons all the way up to Edinburgh, Rees does just this.

What he finds is that car parks, especially the dark and unfrequented edges and corners of car parks, offer up a kind of comment on life on the edges of society. How civilisation is close, at all times, to falling into disrepair. Do you know how many people have been murdered in car parks, or busted for drug deals? Rees does, and it is a lot. It sounds kind of funny, and Rees’ sense of humour shines through, but it is also deadly serious. The quote I started this review with, about the death of a man in a car park in Huddersfield, is an example not only of Rees’ striking style but also the seriousness with which the unlikely topic of car parks can be treated.

And it is Rees’ style that makes this book such a treat to read. He is just undeniably a bit odd – would you expect less from someone who wrote a book like this? – but likeable with it, and his personal story that runs through the book is very arresting. His research, which must have made for a very interesting search history, is thorough and engaging. He deftly weaves together the auto-biographical and the historical, infusing it all with his sense of humour. I greatly enjoyed a chapter that presents a car park as a kind of society in microcosm, with a banker in a nice car apoplectic at a young woman who has scratched his paint work, concluding that she must be a feminist because she has a young baby in her car and not a man in sight.

Rees peoples his story with archetypes that we’ve all seen striding around car parks – the white van man yelling at someone taking too long to park, the person judging someone for using a disabled space who just doesn’t look like they should be. It is darkly funny, and so on the nose that you aren’t surprised later on when he launches in Brexit via the medium of car parks either.

It will probably be the strangest book you read this year, but I can’t recommend Car Park Life enough as a clever and entertaining work of non-fiction that will make you laugh, force you to think, and encourage you to pay more attention to the fringes of society. You might be surprised what you find there.

Review copy provided.

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car park life
Pay close attention to the dark corners of society - you never know what you might see.