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

All that Thomas Horace Whitmer wants to do with the rest of his life is satta on Shacklewell Green. Born in the village of the shackled well in 1950 and living along the busy Pentonville Road in Islington for more than 40 years,Tom still visits the old village green on a regular basis, thinking hard & smoking furiously.

Fictional characters mingle with real people in this novel as Thomas Horace Whitmer, writer and proofreader for the music weekly … More

Spike the Gypsy is a man for all seasons, that is, except for August Bank Holiday weekends. He arrives in London from Kingston, Jamaica at the beginning of the 1950’s & lives in a slum tenement owned by the infamous landlord Peter Rachman at St Stephens Gardens in Ladbroke Grove. The Gypsy knows people from all over London: musicians from jazz clubs, high class society women, politicians for whom he performs small services, drug dealers & whores. He scrapes a living by selling marijuana, shoplifting, cat burglary & intermittent bouts of gambling. Other prominent characters are the journalist Betty Hayes, who works on the Tottenham & Wood Green Journal; an ingenuous adolescent named Frank Stokes, who lives in Dalston, in Hackney; & a middle-aged man called Marvin Cohen, the owner of a second hand record shop in Lower Cut, Waterloo.

Their lives intertwine with that of the Gypsy.  Spanning more than 60 years, the book discusses the London riots that … More

James’s novel has been acclaimed as “a ground-breaking example of regional social realism” and as “a major forerunner of the Caribbean literary movements in English.” Many of James’s readers believe that it is not possible fully to comprehend Caribbean literary art in English without first reading Minty Alley. In the interactions of the characters of Maisie, Haynes, Mrs. Rouse, & Benoit, James discerns new forms of society rooted in the oldest of desires and aspirations. In the everyday language of the unforgettable dialogues in the novel James reveals new modes of human relationships.

Haynes, a young middle-class lodger at No. 2 Minty Alley, becomes both confidant and judge as he examines the other … More

Adrift in Soho was Colin Wilson’s second published novel. It appeared on September 4th, 1961 in the trademark yellow Victor Gollancz dust-jacket and was published six weeks later by Houghton Mifflin in the US. Released one year after Ritual in the Dark, it is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story, set in the 1950s, about a young man from the provinces searching for freedom in London. In his autobiography Dreaming to Some Purpose (2004) Wilson explained that the novel had, in fact, started out as a collaboration between himself and an old Soho friend called Charles Belchier, otherwise known as Charles Russell, a Bohemian actor who appeared uncredited as the bandleader on the Titanic in the film ‘A Night to Remember’ (1958).

Essentially a philosopher, he was best known for his first book The Outsider,  a philosophical study of alienation in modern … More

London is a city of ruins and rubble: in fighting against a police state Britain has become almost a police state itself. Rationing is still in place, the black market is thriving, medical shortages have resulted in antibiotics being watered down. Though Britain was possessed of great decency there was a limit to what it might be expected to bear after suffering six years of war. The barbarities of war had changed peoples’ attitudes; nobody thought of foreigners in terms of human beings.

Lulled by a series of swift and sure dissolves, in an apparently orthodox romance of Irish immigrant life in post-war … More

Jake Arnott will be giving a reading from ‘The Fatal Tree’ at the next Polari event, at Printworks in Hastings on 12 December. London, the 1720s. Welcome to ‘Romeville’, the underworld of that great city. The financial crash caused by the South Sea Bubble sees the rise of Jonathan Wild, self-styled ‘Thief-taker General’ who purports to keep the peace while brutally controlling organised crime. Only two people truly defy him: Jack Sheppard, apprentice turned house-breaker, and his lover, the notorious whore & pickpocket Edgworth Bess.

From the condemned cell at Newgate, Bess gives her account of how she & Jack formed the most famous criminal … More