31 July 2015

Classic: 'The Lonely Londoners' by Samuel Selvon

The Lonely Londoners
"I just lay there on the bed thinking about my life, how after all these years I ain't get no place at all, I still the same way, neither forward nor backward," says Moses, the central character in the classic The Lonely Londoners by Samuel Selvon.

The Lonely Londoners is a 1956 novel by Trinidadian author Samuel Selvon. Its publication marked the first literary work focusing on poor, working-class blacks in Brittain.

The book details the life of West Indians in post-World War II London, a city the immigrants consider the "centre of the world." Covering a period of roughly three years. The novel follows a limited number of characters of the "Windrush generation"  through their daily lives in the capital. The various threads of action form a whole through the unifying central character of Trinidadian Moses Aloetta, a veteran emigrĂ© who, after more than ten years in London, has still not achieved anything of note and whose homesickness increases as he gets older. Every Sunday morning "the boys", many a recent arrival among them, come together in his rented room to trade stories and inquire after those whom they have not seen for a while. Not surprisingly, their lives mainly consist of work (or looking for a job) and various petty pleasures. Dating young white women is at the top of the list, as is hanging around prostitutes.

The most striking feature of The Lonely Londoners is its narrative voice. Selvon started writing the novel in standard English but soon found out that such language would not aptly convey the experiences and the unarticulated thoughts and desires of his characters. In creating a third person narrator who uses the same creolized form of English as the characters of the novel, Selvon explained:
"When I wrote the novel that became The Lonely Londoners, I tried to recapture a certain quality in West Indian everyday life. I had in store a number of wonderful anecdotes and could put them into focus, but I had difficulty starting the novel in straight English. The people I wanted to describe were entertaining people indeed, but I could not really move. At that stage, I had written the narrative in English and most of the dialogues in dialect. Then I started both narrative and dialogue in dialect and the novel just shot along."
Samuel Selvon (20 May 1923–16 April 1994) was a Trinidad-born writer. His 1956's novel The Lonely Londoners is ground-breaking in its use of creolised English, or "nation language", for narrative as well as dialogue.


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