Absolute Beginners by Colin Macinnes
|Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes|
|Genre: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Tamsin Jones|
|Summary: A fascinating account of the teenage revolution and race riots of the 50s.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 208||Date: March 1980|
|Publisher: Allison & Busby|
Colin MacInnes follows his nameless protagonist through a city of coffee bars, elegant clothes, jazz and disposable money over the course of one endless summer in the late fifties. Accompanied by a cast of friends as ethereal and unattainable as him, he experiences love, betrayal, friendship and death. Instead of names they are referred to by nicknames or job descriptions; the beautiful Ex-Deb-of-Last-Year, part-time rentboy The Fabulous Hoplite and the sociopathic Wizard.
He makes his living taking pornographic photographs with his ever present Rolleiflex but dreams of having an exhibition of his more conventional work. His ex-girlfriend, and Negrophile, Crepe Suzette, decides to enter into a marriage of convenience with her 45 year old boss. He is given a Vespa by a client in return for photographs. He drinks a lot of coffee, wears a lot of nice clothes, listens to a lot of jazz. He argues with his mother and half brother. His father falls ill. He takes a boat trip up the Thames for his nineteenth birthday.
Not the most thrilling plot. However, it is impossible not to fall in love with the main character. To watch the summer unfold through his eyes is a stunning spectacle. You wish that Suze would realize her mistake and go back to him. Will his father to recover. Share his disgust and disbelief in the race riots that engulf his beloved London.
The writing is breathtaking. Every word carefully selected to draw you further and further in. Occasionally it becomes reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange with the teenagers having their own language and their own world, only half understood by the adults they hold in so much contempt.
One complaint of the book is that it trivializes the race riots. But it is all seen through the eyes of a teenager. His innocence is never more obvious than when he is talking about all the 'incidents' he witnesses. He is appalled but doesn't quite understand how bad things have got. His determination to help out the coloured people in his area is endearing and completely unswayed by the violence he receives for doing so.
The protagonist's name is never revealed. Even when asked directly at a party he responds mockingly with David Copperfield. He has a timelessness, which makes him untouchable and completely approachable at the same time.
Buy this book. And then buy a copy for all your friends as well.
Further Reading: Nobody's Girl by Kitty Neale.
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