James Attlee

Under the Rainbow: Voices from Lockdown

‘It is always a worthwhile ambition to get through a project like this without being punched.’

Writer and urban explorer Attlee reads the signs and messages appearing in British windows during the pandemic, and interviews the people who made them.

As Britain entered lockdown in the spring of 2020, drawings, paintings and messages proliferated in windows and gardens across the country: signs of the eternal human desire to communicate, even as face-to-face contact became impossible. When restrictions temporarily eased, writer James Attlee began ringing doorbells in his hometown of Oxford. On doorsteps and park benches, on council estates and amid genteel terraces, he recorded the voices of those briefly emerging from isolation, winning the trust of rainbow painters and anti-vaxxers, a Covid nurse, an LGBTQ+ artist, a VE Day celebrator, Black Lives Matter protesters, as well as frontline workers in a bakery and a supermarket.

Their words, Attlee’s pithy observations and sixteen pages of his photographs make Under the Rainbow a unique record of an extraordinary year, and a tribute to creativity and resilience in desperate times.





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If you subscribed to our books by Sunday 17th January 2021 and you will have received your copy of Under the Rainbow in April 2021, before its official May publication. All subscribers are thanked by name in the books.

  • Includes 16pp full-colour photographs
  • James Attlee’s, Isolarion, was reissued by And Other Stories in 2020.
  • James Attlee’s other books include acclaimed Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight and Station to Station.
Print status: Available
Author: James Attlee
Original language: English
Format: B-format paperback incl 16pp of colour photos
Publication date (UK): 13 May 2021
Publication date (US): 7 September 2021
ISBN: 9781913505066
Ebook ISBN: 9781913505073
Availability: World English
Number of pages: 200


Mab Jones
Buzz Magazine

‘A unique book that is a travel guide of sorts, and a fascinating collection of reflections and revelations, with Attlee’s fine mind pulling it together, Under The Rainbow is a brilliant read.’  

Marina Warner

‘Attlee’s form of attention shows us a sensitive way of caring and relating and recognising the lives of others: by attending to messages, gestures, signals in the surrounding streets, by inviting neighbours’ stories and explanations, he has assembled a searching portrait of the time of Covid.’

Sally Bayley

‘Attlee captures an intense moment of national self-reckoning by letting those who speak to him from their doorsteps really speak. The result is a carefully curated form of polyphony, sometimes interjected with personal support, but more often with real sympathy, that carries him back to reflections upon poetry and art.’

Roman Krznaric
author of The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World

'Under the Rainbow is a gem of a book. It refracts the pandemic into a prism of colours, revealing it not just as a public health crisis but as one that touches issues from racial injustice to the climate emergency. With his observant eye and lyrical prose, Attlee takes us beyond the statistics and political statements to help us make sense of living through the shared moments of a global catastrophe.'

Tim Pears
author of The West Country Trilogy

‘Observant, enquiring, contemplative, James Attlee has carried out a deft investigation of a city in lockdown. I love the way he listens to people, thinks about what they've said, and lets it lead him to some relevant allusion or philosophical notion.’

Alexandra Harris
author of Weatherland

‘Full of warmth, wit and eloquence, and a rare, refreshing combination of modesty and conviction, Under the Rainbow is a supple investigation of familiar symbols. I loved the careful anthropological questioning of the complex world on our doorsteps.’

Patrick Keiller
director of London

‘Attlee’s intrepid enquiring sympathetically explores the anxieties and hopes of summer 2020.’

Praise for Isolarion

‘The attraction, for Attlee, is that the Cowley Road “is both unique and nothing special”; the resulting book is unique and very special . . . Residents of East Oxford can be proud to have this eccentric advocate and eloquent explorer in their midst.’ Geoff Dyer, The Guardian

‘A new Oxford that no guidebook has yet captured.’ Richard B. Woodward, New York Times

‘Attlee proves that good travel writing is not about where you go, or how you go there, but the way that you look at the world that you pass through.’ Sunday Telegraph

‘Isolarion, despite its title, is about engagement. Attlee shows the hidden beauty of the plural society.’ Financial Times

‘Attlee captures the essence of this city better than any tour bus ever could.’ Paul Kingsnorth, The Independent

‘A vivid account of daily life, fluid and unsettling, in a modern British town with powerful allegorical reflections on the connections between past and present, time and space, and high culture and the hard-scrabble world that sustains it. Oxford may be the city of lost causes, and this book is indeed ambitious; it could easily sound sententious or twee. But it works, gloriously.’ The Economist

‘I have written much about the streets of Oxford myself, but seldom so perceptively or interestingly . . . Anyone who can drag Lucretius, Susanna, Bathsheba, and St. Jerome into a Cowley Road porn shop deserves our attention and admiration.’ Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse

‘I have never read a better book about Oxford – its oddities and eccentricities. The peripatetic local form of James Attlee’s delightful book makes it a storehouse of information as well as a joy to read for its wit and humour.’ John Bayley

‘With an eclecticism that ropes in Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, Foucault, a porn shop and a Jamaican restaurant, Attlee scrutinises a sense of place. He reminds me of the old scholars, chock full of intellectual curiosity and an almost alchemical sensibility. Here you will find wry humour, intellectual curiosity, strangeness and charm.’ Ray Mattinson, Blackwell’s, Oxford