ON the first anniversary of the Grenfell conflagration this week, reality obliged the news media, and delivered pictures of burning residential towerblocks in both Lewisham and Glasgow.

Black smoke tumbled out of the 14th floor of a Gorbals high-rise in Commercial Road on Thursday. Capturing the scene on her tweet, @queenofthehighway said: “please let everyone get out ok” (they did).

A year on from this most symbolic of disasters – a stump of working-class death in a fragrant middle-class suburbia – the notion that people were advised to stay put, rather than try to “get out ok”, is still one of Grenfell’s most challenging scenarios.

This week’s BBC documentary on the disaster made brilliant use of people’s social media clips. And the most disturbing of them is when residents about to die are pictured waving from windows, exchanging shouts with the filmers.

I tried to watch the harrowing Facebook Live video of Rania Ibrahim, trapped on the 23rd floor, as she recited Islamic scripture and comforted her children to their very end. I didn’t get very far. So many means of communication in people’s hands – yet so ill-informed as to when and how to leave their burning home. And such dignity captured in their final moments.

The massive official inquiry has already started. But I sat this week with the first major non-fiction account of Grenfell, from the Scottish writer and novelist Andrew O’Hagan. It’s a 60,000 word essay that takes up the entirety of the London Review of Books, called The Tower.

It’s a powerful piece of writing (though maybe too powerful – hard to imagine that its conclusions won’t be shaping the overall inquiry). But it’s also, as is Andrew’s wont, partly a meditation on how humans represent and narrate extreme realities. He’s been interested in this since his first book on the Bulger boys, The Missing, and recently his account of working with Julian Assange.

I appreciate him attempting to do this with Grenfell. It is our underlying, deeply founded stories that often motivate and shape change – including how much resources we should spend on preventing terrible things happening again. So we should pay attention to how these stories emerge, and whose interests they serve.

As it happens, it’s not all postmodernism – O’Hagan does try to identify some damning facts.

For example, he takes a dim view of the fire service, whose oxygen supplies appeared ill-organised, cutting down their trips up the to retrieve residents.

But the bulk of Andrew’s case tries to land the blame on what he calls “a network of negligence”. By this he means the broad range of construction service companies whose particular technical provisions “made the tower what it became in the early hours of 14 June” (that is, a conduit for an inferno).

And also, the wider and longer history of privatised building-safety regulations – particularly from 1997 – where regulators allowed value for money to take precedence over ultimate safety.

“Despite all the headlines and all the cries of murder directed at the local authority, the only people who could have known that the cladding was a potential fire risk were the people whose financial advantage lay in selling it, and passing it off, up and down the country, as safe”, writes O’Hagan. “But as headlines go that’s not as sexy or as memorable as accusing two posh men [the heads of the K&C council] of mass murder”.

And that’s the thrust of much of Andrew’s piece – which is the way that the Kensington and Chelsea Council, led by double-barrelled patrician Tories, became the fall guys for a much wider net of responsibility, involving all parties and several governments.

But in a world drenched in media and narratives, where everyone has the ability to tell and promote their story, everything has ambivalence.

O’Hagan wants to relate that this Tory council actually had better records on housing and social services than many of its Labour counterparts.

Kensington’s response to the disaster was, in fact, instant and comprehensive. Yet what was accelerated through the matrix of media and vox-pop was the idea that “the council weren’t there for us”.

Out of many instances, the essay describes a TV item where a Grenfell resident is on camera beside her long-standing social worker.

“The council don’t care,” the woman says. “They’re not doing anything.” The worker sitting next to her is dumbfounded.

Did Grenfell serve as the ultimate indictment of a system which – as the piece also shows – has always historically dumped on this particular area of London? And in an age where self-communication is a form of power, did particular truths matter as much as the overall truth revealed by the fiery death of 73 people in a block of public housing?

O’Hagan won’t make himself many pals by trying to map out how everyone is involved in fabulation, as well as help and care, in disaster situations like this. It’s as if quickly arriving at a settled story helps us cope with the horror.

But I do hope that the full inquiry attends to some of his cautions – particularly about the possibility of letting “our whole culture and everybody in it” off the hook.

Both the BBC documentary and the LRB essay expand and nearly break the heart, as they describe the range of global identities and beautiful domestic scenes that made up life in Grenfell Tower.

The Rasta Tube driver who stopped his train in the area the other day, opening his door and waving his green cloth in sympathy, is an instance of the multicultural energy that courses through that part of London. And which filled the Tower to bursting.

“I want you to say that there were no homeless people in that building,” says a tearful Hassan, the widower of Rania, the fated Facebook Live broadcaster. “We were respectable people”. And indeed they were, coming from Morocco, Syria, Manila, wherever; working in retail, studying hard, finding their first rung in London. And often, according to O’Hagan, sheerly delighted to be so centrally placed in such a maximum city.

I find myself agreeing very much with Andrew’s closing political claims: “People living at the same time require their own ways to be happy. Different habits of family and community. Different notions of belonging. But we have nothing if we don’t have safety”.

No complacency up here, of course – where we have hundreds of buildings bearing the same “combustible cladding” as Grenfell. Glasgow has 57 of these, as well as the highest concentration of high-rises in Britain.

And it’s not as if we haven’t had near-misses. O’Hagan mentions the Garnock Court tower block fire in Irvine in 1999, which swept through nine of its 14 storeys. Some might recall that a fire spread across eight storeys at a GHA tower block in Springburn two years ago.

There is, you’ll be pleased to hear, a Scottish Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety. But post Grenfell, you look at those lightly scorched buildings from the Gorbals, Irvine and Springburn, and you shudder.

Has Scotland been so separate from the deregulatory culture of the last few decades? What dangers lie latent in the folds and welds of cheaply erected and maintained buildings across our country?

We may argue over the future of Scotland, as a nation and society. But the homes that we live in should not kill us. This charred stake in the heart of London must continue to chasten us all, citizens and politicians alike.

Grenfell is on BBC iPlayer. Andrew O’Hagan’s The Tower is published by The London Review of Books