Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Book 20 of 2013: The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon

The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon was one of the last three texts to be studied in my Open University A230 course. It's a story set during the 1950s focusing on black migrants in the capital city. The story is narrated by the character of Moses and is told entirely in dialect. It's not really a single story but a collection of experiences from the group of men that he is friends with.

Before I start talking about the book, can I just gush a little bit about how much I love the Penguin Modern Classics book covers. I love them. They always have a really striking photo or illustration with the bold text over the top. There's just something beautiful about them and as much as I hate to judge a book by its cover, I'd totally choose one that looks like this over any other.

Onto the book itself; I really struggled to get into this at first. The dialect really threw me off. I tend to read really quickly but because the words were being used in a different way to what I expect it slowed me down. I had to keep going back to make sure I was understanding what was being said. I also couldn't read it out loud the way that I like to because I don't talk like that and it sounded wrong.

The more I read, the quicker I was able to read though. I suppose it was just a question of getting used to it. One of the things that they mentioned in my course book was that the dialect was used to help the reader to feel the same sense of disorientation that the migrants felt on arrival in the country. They would have found themselves in a place where the way people spoke was different and the culture was different, the book itself was a reflection of that.

I'd just about gotten to grips with the way the story was written when I encountered about ten pages in the middle of the book that had no punctuation or anything in them. To begin with I honestly thought it was some sort of editing error but according to the course book this was actually supposed to represent something. I don't actually remember what the point of it was, but I was a little bit disappointed. It seemed completely random and I'd just about got to terms with the story and was enjoying it when it went and started messing around. That really pulled me out of the story and I didn't really get back into it again after that.

As I said above, it wasn't really one whole story but lots of little ones tied together. They were all about the same people and their interactions together, who all shared the same situation. It was quite interesting from that respect because it's a way of life I have no experience of, and that's one of the things I love about reading; getting to experience things that you'd have no way of experiencing yourself.

I am curious about Selvon's other stories; there were a couple mentioned in the A230 course materials. I can't see that I'm going to read this again, as pretty as the cover is, having written an essay on it, I'm done with it!


  1. A little dialect can add flavor to a story. Nothing but dialect and it would have 'book - wall' time for me.

    1. The dialect wasn't too bad once I got used to it, but I much prefer books which are written in Standard English with maybe just spoken dialogue written in the actual dialect.

      There were a few 'book - wall' near misses with this one, particularly at the ten page section without any punctuation!

  2. I didn't like the ten page 'stream of consciousness' section either. I didn't really read it properly, just skipping through it to get back to the story. I'm sure I could've commented more on it in the TMA but I just didn't get it at all.

    1. I was the same. I find punctuation kind of helps give me an 'anchor point' when I'm reading, like the rungs of a ladder. I kept on losing my place and not being able to find exactly where I'd gotten to.

      I'm glad I wasn't the only one who felt that way!


Let me know what you think. :-)