Thursday, 12 January 2012

Absolute Beginners



Of Colin MacInnes's trilogy of London novels; City of Spades (1957), Absolute Beginners (1959), and Mr. Love and Justice (1960), Absolute Beginners stands head and shoulders above the others.
Written in the first person from perspective of an unnamed teenage photographer, the novel is spilt into one day per month over 4 months leading up to the narrator's nineteenth birthday. Each section is a swirling milieu of immigrant blacks, teenagers, ponces, queers and the police.

It contains some of the best named characters in fiction: Crêpe Suzette, The Fabulous Hoplite, Mr. Cool, The ex-Deb-of-Last-Year, Ed the Ted, Zesty-Boy Swift, Vendice Partners, Mannie Katz, The Misery Kid, and my personal favorite - Dido Lament.

Written in hip slang it is it’s like a snapshot of cool:

"Picture, to re-cap, the scene. There, on the wharf, stood the ex-Deb's bubble-car and M. Ponderoso's Vespa (because yes, Mickey P. really had delivered the promised goods), and a band of onlookers with complimentary tickets, and up on the bridge above us, the City citizens scurrying to and fro, the men looking like dutiful schoolkids with their brief-cases and brollies, the women as if they were hurrying to work in order to hurry home again, and out in the stream, the fract like Piccadilly circus-on-the-water, and there in the quagmire me, and this temperamental Old Vic duo. the fact is, it was rather difficult to concentrate, because the whole panorama was so splendid, with the sun hitting glass triangles off the water, and the summer with the season really in its grip, making the thought of those short, dark, cold days long ago seem just a nightmare. So we decided to break off for déjeuner. This we partook in a Thames-side caff up a lane that, thought I know the river frontage intricacies like the veins on my own two hands, I'd never discovered - but then, after all, who does know London?"

Recommended.

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