The Lonely Londoners

The Lonely Londoners

infobox Book |
name = The Lonely Londoners

image_caption = Cover of the 2006 Penguin edition
author = Samuel Selvon
cover_artist = Felix H. Man (photographer)
country = England
language = English
genre = Novel
publisher = Alan Wingate
release_date = 1956
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 142 pp
isbn = ISBN 978-0-14-118841-6 (2006 edition)

"The Lonely Londoners" is a 1956 novel by British Caribbean author Samuel Selvon.


The book details the life of West Indians in post World War II London, a city the immigrants consider the "centre of the world" [Samuel Selvon: "The Lonely Londoners", p.134.] . Covering a period of roughly three years, it has no plot in the strict sense of the word. Rather, the novel follows a limited number of characters of the "Windrush generation", all of them "coloureds", 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 emigré 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.

Narrative technique, language and style

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. [Susheila Nasta: "Introduction". Ibid.,] In creating a third person narrator who uses the same creolized form of English as the characters of the novel, Selvon added a new, multiculturalist dimension to the traditional London novel and enhanced the awareness in both readers and writers of a changing London society which could no longer be ignored. Thus, in style and context, "The Lonely Londoners" "represented a major step forward in the process of linguistic and cultural decolonization." [Ibid., p.x.]

Apart from its simplicity and (debatable) grammatical incorrectness, the language used by Selvon's characters and by the narrator contains a multitude of slang expressions. For example, when "the boys" talk about "the Water" or "the Gate", they are referring to Bayswater and Notting Hill respectively. (As opposed to today, in the postwar period the name "Notting Hill" evoked a down-at-heel area of cheap lodgings where Caribbean immigrants would more easily find accommodation than elsewhere in London.) Sometimes referring to themselves and each other as "spades", in their spare time they can be found "liming"—the Caribbean pastime of hanging around with friends eating, talking and drinking—, and some of their talk will be "oldtalk"—reminiscences of their previous lives in the West Indies and the exchange of news from home. Finally, a white English girl can be a "skin" ("a sharp piece of skin"), a "frauline" [sic] , a "cat", a "number", or of course a "chick" or "white pussy".

A remarkable passage within the novel about a typical London summer is written in the stream of consciousness mode, linking up Selvon with the modernist movement. [Samuel Selvon: "The Lonely Londoners", pp.92-102.]


* Susheila Nasta: "Introduction". Sam Selvon: "The Lonely Londoners" (Penguin Books: London, 2006) v-xvii.
* Helon Habila: [,,2035023,00.html "Out of the Shadows"] , "The Guardian" (March 17, 2007). Retrieved 7/8/07.
* Moya Jones Petithomme: [ "The Immigrant's Urban Tale ... 40 years On"] , "Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines" (1993). Retrieved 7/8/07.

Read on

Other novels which thematise the immigrant experience among Caribbeans in London:

*Warwick Collins: "Gents" (1997)
*Victor Headley: "Yardie" (1992)
*George Lamming: "The Emigrants" (1954)
*Andrea Levy: "Small Island (2004)
*Colin MacInnes: "City of Spades" (1957) and "Absolute Beginners" (1959)
*V. S. Naipaul: "The Mimic Men" (1967)
*Caryl Phillips: "The Final Passage" (1985)


All page references are to the 2006 Penguin "Modern Classics" edition.

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