Although it depicts in realistic terms the lives of West Indian immigrants newly arrived in England, the terms in which it does so are so lyrical in language and lighthearted in attitude that The Lonely Londoners seems less a conventional novel than a cavalcade of humors and manners, a Mardi Gras of misadventure or, to use one of the novel’s own terms, a “fete.” Its structure is episodic, possibly a result of the author’s well-known ability as a short-story writer and radio dramatist. This structure has the effect of making the work’s sense of time seasonal rather than social. The characters do not have the space in which to develop. In addition, the novel is written for the most part in the English of the author’s native Trinidad, reverting to standard usage only at points when some conceptual dimension needs to be invoked in order to clarify a character’s state of mind.
Instead of limiting the work’s appeal, however, these features subtly convey the implications of the title. Even the unfamiliar constructions of the author’s English are rich in cultural undertones of various kinds, while remaining for the uninitiated reader quite easy to understand. The attempt to preserve the character of the uncertainty, vitality, and foreignness that the immigrants bring, along with the addictive attractions and possibilities of London life, fuels The Lonely Londoners, making it more a fascinating document with strong ethnographic tendencies than a well-made novel in the conventional mode.
Despite the author’s clear understanding of the economic, racial, and political components of his characters’ social existence, the sense of the social that emerges is that which derives from leisure activities and the pursuit of happiness, particularly the variety that, it is believed, the female form embodies. This emphasis does not overlook other, more pressing, areas of immigrant experience. Subjection to prejudice by employers, labor unions, landlords, and various other social structures is deftly but...
(The entire section is 835 words.)