What We're Reading

By Giles Broadbent on February 19, 2009 2:02 PM |

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London Belongs To Me
Norman Collins

Penguin, £10.99
4/5

"People criss-cross without pattern or purpose, briefly rising above the hubbub to say something of no great significance."

Norman Collins – no great shakes as a prose stylist – captures the vibrancy and vernacular of this haphazard city as well as the best of London chroniclers.

In this great novel, reissued under the Modern Classics label, the rush and tumble of a big city is captured in vivid, commonplace prose bringing to life a cast of eccentrics and dullards, both animated with equal joy.

Set in 1938, everywhere people are falling in love, going to work, making deals, committing crimes with the great clouds of war hanging over every one of them.

Collins portrays a world of faded gentility, smoky pubs and ordinary lives with a plain-speaking voice and an ear for the dry and dogged British humour that saw off the Nazis.

The story centres on the reliable Mr Josser who lives in a lodging house with a party of eccentrics who struggle, not with the great questions of existence, but simply to get on.

The city portrayed in this novel is a London that we all know.

People criss-cross without pattern or purpose, briefly rising above the hubbub to say something of no great significance.

Painted in shades of grey it is, nonetheless, an evergreen joy.