Monday, 25 March 2013

"The Lonely Londoners" - Sam Selvon

I read this book on a city break to London last year (before we moved to live here) but it's come to mind again recently and, without claiming any expertise whatsoever, I wanted to celebrate it. 

This is the second novel I've read that has delved into the stories of Caribbean migrants in Britain after the second world war; the first was Small Island by Andrea Levy. Levy's book was every bit as brilliant as the reviews made out, but The Lonely Londoners caught me by surprise and surpassed my expectations. For me, Small Island was an education; The Lonely Londoners was an experience.

That distinction was in part created by the language and form of Sam Selvon's novel: its episodic writing style, the use of non-standard English in the narrative voice. From the outset I found myself involved in a sensory and emotional immersion into alien London, feeling the characters' estrangement from places that are in reality fairly familiar to me. And I loved it.

I loved this book because, in some small but significant way, it gave me a greater love for my maternal Grandad. It allowed me to look with empathy on complex choices that I've previously judged from the comfort of my own perspective. It gave me a framework for actually seeing, not just knowing on an intellectual level, that there is more to our family story than personal egos and agendas. We do have choices. Undeniably. But those choices are made in the very real context of our circumstances. I would be wise to show the sort of grace I might want to receive when my culture and convictions are judged by someone else's standards.

I've said before that fiction is great in my eyes if it makes me reconsider reality. I'll be forever grateful to The Lonely Londoners for making me think twice about a story I thought I understood.

My first reading of this book was all about my emotional response, but I'm learning more about the novel from a literary perspective using a free Open University unit available here.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Tricky Topics

Image created by artandwords on

The most appealing thing about the blogging process for me has been challenging myself to digest information/experiences and have a constructive reaction, instead of letting life wash over me. As part of that, I've thought a little more deeply about some tricky topics having an impact in the public sphere and shared the beginnings of my reactions in a few posts.

This is really just a note to say that I've decided to take those discussions off-line. For a while my personal musings on topics like big business and the economy were a side-line activity, but I'm now privileged to be in a position where I get to learn about those things as part of my career. It's a really exciting avenue to be going down and not one that I would have predicted I'd have the chance to embrace. But here I am. And there's a lot to learn.

Two things are easy. It's easy to make assumptions: to form ideological stances on the basis of very little information. On the other hand, it's also easy to be apathetic: to switch off and distance from tricky topics because the volume of information is so daunting and the content so dense. I don't want to do either. 

I genuinely believe in taking responsibility, in the reality of interconnected consequences and in trying to be part of solutions. There is, however, such disparity between that belief and my actions. The awareness of falling short in that respect is both discouraging and motivating.

With that in mind, I am entirely committed to continuing to think and pray and learn about the big questions surrounding finance, corporate governance and the like, as well as the mechanics behind it all. I'm thrilled that I get to call that "work" for the next little while in my life. But while I'm in the very early stages of that knowledge-gathering process, and while I'm potentially employed along those lines, I think a hiatus from splurging about it all is probably appropriate.

 "The more you talk, 
the more likely you will cross the line and say the wrong thing; 
but if you are wise
you will speak less and with restraint."
Proverbs 10v18 

 (the Voice Bible translation)

Who knows, one day I might have grounds to make a legitimate contribution to the debate. In the meantime, there are a lot of knowledgeable people writing about interesting ideas in accessible ways.
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