“This is London, this is life oh lord, to walk like a king with money in your pocket, not a worry in the world…”
Just when I think I have finally ploughed through my never ending reading list for Uni, another novel or short story rears its grotesque head. The issue with this is that it means I am biased against every book I read as I don’t really want to be reading it. This inevitably means the book has to work twice as hard to earn my admiration. The Lonely Londoners is thankfully a pretty short book and one that, on the whole, I mostly enjoyed.
Samuel Selvon’s seminal novel was one of the first books to focus on the working class, black population that migrated to the UK in the 40s and 50s. Rather than having a structured plot, The Lonely Londoners is a snapshot of life for a number of different characters who all have a vague knowledge of each other. At its best, this scattershot technique evokes Catch 22 in its sheer number of characters and each of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. At its worst however, there are passages that never really go anywhere and one section that has no punctuation almost made me stop reading the damn thing altogether. It is clear that Selvon did this to mimic the excited speech of the narrator and to reflect the topsy turvy lifestyle enjoyed and endured by the black community at that time, but in reality it is just soul destroyingly difficult to read. I’m all for artistic choices if they add to the enjoyment of the work but this is not one of those times. Not for a simple, monkey brained creature such as myself anyway.
Despite that minor criticism, I would gently encourage the reading of The Lonely Londoners by other thirty year old, white northerners as it allowed me a glimpse into a fascinating world in which I know absolutely nothing about. Selvon’s book is a love letter to his people, his country and to London. He speaks so warmly about all three that it is difficult not to get carried away on a wave of enthusiasm.
The Lonely Londoners is a book with a serious message that is wrapped up in humour and the story telling tradition and while it felt like a slog at times, ultimately I am glad that I read it.