In the Notting Hill of the early 70s we rediscover Moses Aloetta, last seen twenty years before in Selvon’s masterpiece, The Lonely Londoners. In the fifties, Moses was a reluctant “welfare officer” for new arrivals from the islands, grumbling as he helped people find their feet in the Mother Country. Now he’s installed as the tin-pot monarch of a tumble-down terraced house in Shepherd’s Bush.

There is something of the shipwrecked mariner about Moses, washed up on a cold and lonely shore, making do with … More

Sitting in his cramped basement room in Brixton, Battersby dreams of money, women, a T-bone steak – and a place to call his own. So he and a group of friends decide to save up and buy a house together. But amid grasping landlords, the temptations of spending money and the less-than-welcoming attitude of the Mother Country, can this motley group of hustlers and schemers, Trinidadians and Jamaicans, men and women make their dreams a reality?

‘Selvon’s meticulously observed narratives of displaced Londoners’ lives created a template for how to write about migrant, and post-migrant, London … More

‘To Sir, With Love’, is a 1959 autobiographical novel by E. R. Braithwaite set in the East End of London. The novel is based on true events concerned with Braithwaite taking up a teaching post in a school there. In 1945, Rick Braithwaite, a smart, highly educated ex-RAF pilot, looks for a job in British engineering. He is deeply shocked to realise that, as a black man from British Guiana, no one will employ him because of the colour of his skin..

.. In desperation he turns to teaching, taking a job in a tough East End school, and left to govern … More

Camberton’s second novel is a coming of age portrayal of “down Hackney”, home of David Hirsch, who steadily leaves behind his Jewish upbringing in adolescence to explore the wider world of London. Typically there is wide array of humorous characters in his portrayal of Hackney and the more cosmopolitan world Hirsch is drawn towards.

The book is written from the standpoint of the “bum”: that bearded and corduroyed figure who may be seen crouching … More

Next book reading will be on the novels of Alexander Baron with Susie Thomas. The novelist Alexander Baron (1917-1999) was born into a working class Jewish home in Hackney, joined the Communist Party as a young man, saw the thick of battle in Sicily and Normandy, and became one of the most admired writers of post-war Britain. His first novel, From the City, From the Plough, was acclaimed as the definitive novel of the Second World War, the first of a trilogy including There’s No Home and The Human Kind.

Susie Thomas has taught Baron’s novels for many years and is the reviews editor for The Literary London Journal. Andrew … More

Night and the City is the third novel by British author Gerald Kersh, published in 1938. It is a crime thriller set in 1930s London but also deals with social realism themes in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The protagonist of the novel is Harry Fabian, a morally reprehensible spiv determined to become the top wrestling promoter in London. During the course of the novel Fabian is embroiled in various unscrupulous money-making ventures. All those around him are treated as a means to an end without exception. However, while his acts of pimping, blackmail, promoting professional wrestling, and deception are successful, the proceeds of crime soon slip from his hands.

Eventually his world starts to come down around him. On one side the police are closing in; on the other … More

The novelist Alexander Baron (1917-1999) was born into a working class Jewish home in Hackney, joined the Communist Party as a young man, saw the thick of battle in Sicily & Normandy, & became one of the most admired writers of post-war Britain. His first novel, From the City, From the Plough (1948), was acclaimed as the definitive novel of the Second World War, the first of a trilogy including There’s No Home (1950) & The Human Kind (1953). This was followed by a string of novels about working class life in post-war London, including The Lowlife (1963) a cult novel for many other writers ever since. In recent years his reputation has flourished with many of his fifteen novels back in print. This is the first detailed study of the man and his work.

Susie Thomas has taught Baron’s novels for many years and is the reviews editor for The Literary London Journal. Andrew … More

London ‘is an archipelago of life’, declares Alexander Baron in the opening pages of this novel. ‘The millions of Londoners are really broken up into tens of thousands of little clusters of life. Each is gathered round some centre, perhaps a street … Within each of these little hives people live for each other as well as for themselves, and life generates a comfortable warmth.’ Rosie Hogarth is about one such little hive in the years immediately after the Second World War. Lamb Street is a respectable, inward looking working class enclave in south Islington, close to the Angel and to Chapel Market. The novel stands out for its profound sense of place. But alongside the warmth of community is the chill of exclusion..

The ‘man or woman who tries to settle in London without gaining admission to one of these communities’, Baron writes … More

With Hope, Farewell was Alexander Baron’s first novel to explore Jewish working class life in fiction, and predated his The Lowlife, being published first in 1952. Mark Strong endures petty anti-Semitism but achieves his wartime ambition to become a fighter pilot. After the war, blighted by injury and a desolation brought on by conflict, Mark and his wife, Ruth, seek to set up home in Hackney. ‘The bombing of the East End during the war had sent thousands of homeless Jews outwards in wave after wave,’ Baron asserts in this novel. ‘They had penetrated to every corner of Hackney.’ They face organised anti-Semitism, and the climax of the novel comes amid a rally in Dalston by British Nazis, still not cowed by their co-thinkers’ war defeat.

Alexander Baron was born Joseph Alexander Bernstein in 1917 to Jewish parents. His first novel, From the City, From the … More

‘You leave your mother and your brother too, You leave the pretty wife you’re never faithful to, You cross the sea to find those streets that’s paved with gold, And all you find is Brixton cell that’s oh! so cold.’ London, 1957. Victoria Station is awash with boat trains discharging hopeful black immigrants into a cold and alien land. Liberal England is about to discover the legacy of Empire.

And when Montgomery Pew, a newly appointed assistant welfare officer in the Colonial Department, meets Johnny Fortune, recently arrived from … More