Far from a cold shopping monolith, there is life in the mall

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By    www.thenational.ae

Think about it: when was the last time you genuinely enjoyed yourself at a mall? It’s all too easy to cast them as homogenous temples of bland, unthinking consumerism.

The Dubai Mall.  Gabriela Maj/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Dubai Mall. Gabriela Maj/Bloomberg via Getty Images

But a new book asks us to think much deeper than concerning ourselves with which pair of shoes might be on sale the next time we visit. Combining short stories with history and factual analysis, Ewan Morrison’s Tales from the Mall does that rare thing: it gives shopping centres a human face.

“I’ve written four books which have been about exorcising my own demons, and it gets quite exhausting,” he laughs. “So this time I just wanted to find out how the world works. It’s always intrigued me that no one’s ever really written about these structures which are at the heart, now, of most cultures. Malls have spread around the world so it’s not as banal a subject as it might seem.”

It was an encounter with an operations manager in one British mall which took Tales from the Mall to another, ahem, level. Rather than give Morrison the public relations spiel, the manager allowed his staff to speak freely to him.

“It was the juicy anecdotes of daily life in the mall I was after,” he says. “And it turns out that when you work in a really boring job in retail, one of the ways you keep yourself going is to amass these stories of strange behaviour.”

So in one tale a cleaning assistant saves a suicidal man by hurling abuse at him. In another, a man addicted to Starbucks finds fleeting love when he trips over a fellow shopper. Chalk lines scrawled into dark service corridors, to help nervous delivery men find their way to the right store, take on the quality of ancient cave drawings. Some anecdotes seem too good to be true, but for Morrison that’s not important. More info