MacInnes’s London

Michael Mason

  • City of Spades Mr Love and Mr Justice Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes
    Allison and Busby, 254 pp, £6.50, April 1980, ISBN 0 85031 331 7

With his three London novels Colin MacInnes hit on a marvellous subject-matter, into which he saw deeply. In other departments, however, he did not have the qualities to match. The books are consequently a frustrating experience – giving the sense of something thwarted, or half-realised. Taken as a group, indeed, they testify to the author’s unease about how best to convey his materials and vision. Each of them has its own distinct, extreme principle of style and/or organisation, while their subject-matter remains extraordinarily uniform. There is very little in common, for example, between the alternating first-person, colloquial narratives of City of Spades and the sententious, schematic narrative of Mr Love and Mr Justice. The theme of the pimp, however – one of MacInnes’s most idiosyncratic preoccupations – dominates both plots.

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