Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes

An unnamed male teenage narrator describes summer in London in 1958.  In the earlier parts, his main concerns are his love for ex-girlfriend Crepe Suzette, his misgivings about his family, and spending time with his various friends.  However, as the novel progresses, he describes the rising racial tensions of the time, which inevitably spill over into violence.

The narrator lives in a poorer part of London which he refers to as Napoli, and whose population is very multi-cultural, and also houses a lot of people on the fringes of society at the time, such as homosexuals and drug addicts.  A new youth culture is just emerging and so is the popularity of jazz music in Britain.

I enjoyed this book, on the whole, although I found the narrator hard to engage with, despite the fact that we were seeing events through his eyes.  He seems to have more acquaintances than actual friends, and many of those are fairly transient characters, who seem to serve as a sounding board for the narrator’s thoughts and beliefs.

Things do become more heated at the close of the book, and with it, the maturing narrator also starts to care about bigger issues.  However, although he has strong feelings about the events that take place, I found little emotion in his telling of such events.

I wasn’t around to experience the era or the location of the times described, but the telling of the story does seem to have an air of authenticity about it, and described London as a vibrant and exciting place to be, but with an air of underlying tension.

I usually prefer character driven books, but in this novel, the characters take second place to the city of London itself, which is really the biggest character of all.

Overall, an enjoyable read, and much better than the film adaptation!

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