I thought I wasn’t going to be able to take part in Kaggsy and Simon Stuckinabook‘s latest year challenge, the 1956 Club, as I didn’t have any books from the year in question on my TBR, which is the self-imposed rule I’ve been applying to all my challenges this year again, but then a chance noticing of a title mentioned led me to my fiction shelves, where I found this slim volume I thought I could fit in, seeing as I was on a week off work. And I did!

I’m sorry I wasn’t able to use the special image for the Club, but I just can’t save it in a format where it will upload here. I’ve had the same problem with other logos for challenges. Not a New WordPress Blocks issue as I’m editing in the old editor right now. So here’s a photo of my rather dishevelled copy from the 1980s which my local library discarded and I snapped up.

Sam Selvon – “The Lonely Londoners”

(17 September 2007 – my original review says it was from a local charity shop, and it’s a withdrawn-from-circulation library book)

I last read this book in January 2008 and did a not very detailed review here. This is a tour de force of narration in a language blended from the voices of the people it describes. It has a loose structure behind its episodic nature and reflects the tangled and often chaotic lives of the early and subsequent emigrants from the West Indies to London.

We open with Moses going to collect yet another new arrival at Waterloo, bemoaning his own kind nature: he talks Galahad through is first days in the city and slips into remembering his own arrival, introducing a suite of characters whose stories are told alongside his, intersecting and moving away over time, all linked together in a precarious world of lodging houses, labour exchanges and manual labour jobs. The acquisition of trousers takes a major role; everyone is clever and careful in different ways, whether they’re self-reliant or relying on the kindness of others.

While the Americans are described as openly racist, the British are more subtle and “diplomatic”, the job having just gone as you arrive for an interview, the flat mysteriously already rented, assuming everyone who arrives from the West Indies is from Jamaica. Has this aspect really changed, I wonder? Cleverly woven into the text are mentions of discussions of the immigration situation in Parliament, that background we know for creating a “hostile environment” for the Windrush generation and their families.

There are comic and heroic passages, such as when the redoubtable Tanty, who was never expected to arrive in the first place but turned up in a family group one day, ventures onto the Tube and bus (having asked a police officer) after lording it over the Harrow Road, and a party that everyone turns up at, spinning the threads together then separating out as there are rows over who is dancing with whom. It’s very much a love song to London in all its grimy glory, treading those streets whose names people had only heard, with the characters saying they will go back to their green islands but knowing they never will. Moving and bleak by turns, and has much really changed?

I really enjoyed revisiting this book and am glad I was able to take part in the 1956 Club after all!