The lonely Londoners | Sam Selvon

Moses Aloetta, a Trinidadian migrant settled in London, recalls the various characters he’s encountered in his capacity as reluctant meet-and-greeter/unofficial welfare officer, helping newcomers from the Caribbean navigate the cold unwelcoming city. No streets paved with gold await the hopeful new arrivals to the Mother Country, just prejudice, discrimination, slum housing and miserable weather. Although Moses’ curmudgeonly response to the various ‘foolishness’ he endures from his proteges is entertaining to read, as a social document of Britain’s treatment of the Windrush generation, it’s sobering.

The Lonely Londoners’is an uneven read. Some anecdotes ramble on for ages with no obvious point a la Grandpa Simpson, but there are some lovely prose passages, some Mrs-Dalloway-esque streams of consciousness rhapsodising at the splendour of London in summertime, and some sweet moments as well. Tanty, the benign Jamaican matriarch, is usually at the centre of those, and she’s a refreshing change from the endless sharp-suited players.

Which brings us on to the subject of women.

I’d have enjoyed this book a lot more without the unrelenting misogyny. After getting work and somewhere to live, the new arrivals next and only aim is to shag their way round London. As the number of women used and abused rose, my interest and sympathy waned. OK, the author is telling it like it is, but when one ‘amusing’ anecdote after another involves women being robbed, beaten up, abandoned, call me a humourless feminist, but I’m not smiling. Apparently at a reading at the ICA, a woman marched up to Mr Selvon and slapped him round the face. If I’d been there, I’d probably have applauded her.

Current mood: Life’s too short to read books by men about men.