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Absolute beginners by Colin MacInnes

Absolute beginners (original 1959; edition 2011)

by Colin MacInnes

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4231837,283 (3.68)42
Title:Absolute beginners
Authors:Colin MacInnes
Info:London : Allison & Busby, 2011.
Collections:Your library

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Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes (1959)


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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
A picaresque novel of a young free-lance photographer in 1958 London. A little difficult for me to follow at times due to the author's heavy use of late '50s British colloquialisms and teenage slang. Though not nearly as heavy as "A Clockwork Orange" published three years later, which may have been influenced by the same events (e.g. Rising youth culture and gang violence, Teddy Boys, the Notting Hill Race Riots). I got more out of the education of events and sub-culture then anything else the book offered. ( )
  Tallowyck | Apr 15, 2019 |
A bit of just not quite stream of conscious as we follow the just turning 19 year old aspiring photographer and jazz lover around 1959 London. It is a bit of a critique of the people and a paean to the city as it should aspire to be. The mixed maturity level of the main character isn't quite realistic, but does convey what a liberal of the time hope he would be. It's a fun trip. ( )
  quondame | Apr 8, 2019 |
Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes is a book that has gained cult status with it’s precise, yet slangy language, and it’s sharp look at the youth culture in London in the late 1950’s. The novel unfolds through the words and thoughts of a teenage freelance photographer who rubs shoulders with a varied amount of people from debutantes to drug addicts. He is obsessed by fashion and jazz music but over all is driven by his love for his ex-girlfriend Crepe Suzette.

The story is told in four parts, each part covers one day in the four months of the summer of 1958. This was a summer of simmering racial tensions that the narrator observes, he also learns of his father’s illness and his promiscuous ex-girlfriend’s decision to enter a sexless marriage with her much older, gay fashion designer boss. With it’s coffee bars, modern jazz, rock n’roll, trendy clothes and life style this is obviously a chronicle of the emergence of upcoming mod culture.

I found Absolute Beginners to be a small window on a London that was soon to evolve into the epicentre of the “Swingin’ 60s” On the one hand it was a joyful celebration of being young but ingeniously contrasted by dark descriptions of junkies, prostitutes, race wars, and selling out in life. With it’s stylized language, colourful characters and pop culture atmosphere, this was an engaging read. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Apr 1, 2019 |
This book, written by Colin MacInnes, is set in the late 50s and covers a new creation, teenager. The war is over and kids no longer go from being children to being part of the work force. Our narrator, is an anonymous teenage who is a loyal London city boy but this is a hot summer and the outbreak of London's worst race riots. This brought home what was going on in the South of the US and also South Africa.

The author was born in 1914 and died in 1976. He was a journalist and a novelist and while he used derogatory slang in this book. Spade for blacks, you have the sense that he is not prejudiced and I think he used the word to capture the spirit of the Jazz age. The book was set in the Notting Hill area which was essentially poor and racially mixed. The author was openly bisexual, and wrote about such things as wrote about subjects including urban squalor, racial issues, bisexuality, and drugs. In the book, I liked the quote, "I don't understand my own country any more.....In the history books, they tell us the English race has spread itself all over the world: gone and settled everywhere, and that's one of the great, splendid English things. No one invited us, and we didn't ask anyone's permission, I suppose. Yet when a few hundred thousand come and settle among our fifty millions, we just can't take it." This makes this book timely, immigration being an issue in the fifties and is currently an issue.

The book uses a lot of slang. What I take to be teenager slang. Perhaps teens don't use slang anymore but it was a big thing in the 50s, 60s and 70s. The characters are only seen though our narrators eyes and in many ways they are stereotyped but they are fun and they represent that fringe society. The book was readable. Even though full of slang it wasn't hard to follow. It should be a fairly quick read for most people.

While it didn't win any awards, it is on both the 1001 Books You Must Read and the Guardian 1000 list. There is a political statement, a cultural statement and there is some derogatory slang and swear words but overall not a bad read and if this is the worst race riot for England, they can still hold their head up when compared to the US and South Africa. ( )
1 vote Kristelh | Oct 20, 2018 |
Colin MacInnes's 1959 novel, Absolute Beginners, is a coming-of-age masterpiece. Highly nuanced and perceptive, it follows the 18-year-old narrator, who is a photographer and jazz aficionado, through the chaotic summer on the cusp of entering his last year as a teen, on the final approach to adulthood. Though MacInnes was 44 when it was published, he was remarkably attuned to the budding but shadowy world of late 1950's London teenage culture, its vibrancy still resonating within the book nearly sixty years later. It all rings true: the dialogue, the characters, the angst, the confusion, love and loss, disillusion and hope.

Against the backdrop of London's class distinctions and racial unrest, which MacInnes confronts unflinchingly with pointed social commentary, the novel places the reader right in the center of these tensions, and then zeroes in on the emotional strains at the personal level involving the narrator's relationships with family, girlfriend, friends and acquaintances. The descriptions of London are truly evocative, from the loving take on the Thames embankment to the frightful dissection of the dismal and dangerous Napoli/Notting Hill neighborhood. This is an essential work in the Bildungsroman genre: passionate, smart, honest, and insightful. ( )
2 vote ghr4 | Jan 9, 2018 |
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It was with the advent of the Laurie London era that I realised the whole teenage epic was tottering to doom.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140021426, Paperback)

Penguin film edition paperback, vg+

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:56 -0400)

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London, 1958-Soho, Notting Hill . . . a world of smoky jazz clubs, coffee bars, and hip hangouts in the center of London's emerging youth culture. The young and restless - the absolute beginners - were creating a world as different as they dared from the traditional image of England's green and pleasant land. Follow our young photographer as he records the moments of a young teenager's life in the capital - sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll, the era of the first race riots and the lead up to the swinging sixties .… (more)

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Average: (3.68)
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