Image result for the lonely londonersLocation: The Eagle & Tun, home to UB40, and our first time in a “desi pub”.

Theme: Black History Month

Chosen by: Lorna

In 1956, Trinidadian author Sam Selvon wrote The Lonely Londoners. The book marked an important point in the history of literature as the first book to focus on working-class black immigrants after the introduction of the British Nationality Act 1948.

The book is set over a 3-year period in London after the Second World War, with a very loose plot focused on the day-to-day lives of a group of West Indian immigrants. The main character, Moses, has lived in London for a decade, yet achieved nothing. Moses helps other newer immigrants to navigate British life—looking for jobs, trying to date white women, and seeing prostitutes.

Despite their hopes that England would be a land of promise, Moses and “the boys” are homesick, holding on to their dream of home, and it’s no surprise since they are only given the jobs that nobody else wants, are frequently exploited, and are treated as outsiders by the rest of society. For them, London is a lonely city where they are unwelcome and forced to unite through their common differences. It is a London divided, and that divides.

But Selvon himself went some way to removing this division by writing the book, not least because he rewrote the book in creolized English after starting in the Queen’s English so he could convey the realistic emotions of his characters and create awareness. While the slang and vocabulary used isn’t a barrier to enjoyment, the beat writer tradition he employs really is a barrier unless you’re a fan of it. Rather than the unfocused, meandering snapshots, we would have preferred a beginning, middle, and end (perhaps we’re a little conventional in our unconventionality.)

This succinct book offers a quick foray into the subject, but we felt that it lacked detail and merely skimmed the surface of the issues. On the whole, we wanted less of the characters chasing women and more insights, particularly of the female experience, which isn’t really explored. Instead of observational snippets and social commentary that provides just a flavour, we wanted back story and a more in-depth exploration of the immigrant experience.

Inevitably, coming to the book in 2016 when society has considerably moved on means the book doesn’t offer the kind of insights it did back in 1956. Yet it remains incredibly popular—perhaps leading to our high expectations. While we didn’t love the book for these reasons, it certainly provoked an interesting discussion around some of our parents’ experience of immigrating to England and of how much has really changed.

Score: 6