YES WE HAVE NO by Nik Cohn


Adventures in the Other England
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An exhilaratingly picaresque expedition—encountering innumerable misfits, mutants, and militants—into England’s gray, unpleasant land. Veteran rock “n” roll journalist and lowlife anthropologist Cohn emerges from retirement in an impossibly bucolic, Betjeman-esque village in Hertfordshire to explore the barely United Kingdom’s underbelly with the same gusto that he did for Times Square in The Heart of the World (1992). Easy as it is to tear down Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia” or sift the post-Thatcherite wreckage, Cohn’s instinct for oddballs and his enthusiasm for the rave generation’s youthful energies power this road trip from Cornwall and London to Liverpool and Yorkshire, with detours for anything out of England’s ordinary: social workers turned fortune tellers and dominatrices, Hell’s Angels in Hackney, karaoke fanatics, graffiti artists, a Church of England exorcist, and more at each stopover. With Cohn accompanied by a fellow Derry-born minute female dynamo of a “researcher” whose motto is “Leap before you look,” Yes We Have No travels over the much-changed ground covered by Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, J.B. Priestley’s English Journey, and its sequel by Beryl Bainbridge (with their paperbacks in Cohn’s pockets). Cohn has the good listener’s ability to get a memorable quote out of everyone, e.g. “You need to jive to thrive,” says Laurence, a Jamaican spiv with three A-levels who divides the country into an anarchically multiracial “republic” and the status quo of the “Anglo Club.” Detouring from youth-driven culture, Cohn also tracks down last year’s rebels, such as a quietly retired Johnny Edgecombe, the Antiguan scam artist who touched off the Profumo Affair, and miners’ union leader Arthur Scargill, still shilling unreconstructed socialism after his union’s decimation by Thatcher. Underneath Cohn’s attraction to outsiders, however, lurks his Derry childhood’s nostalgic, unreturned affection for old England, which gives an elegiac undercurrent. The rave-generation answer to Defoe’s Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-394-56870-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999


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