The Housing Lark by Sam Selvon review – vibrant comic classic | The Guardian

Sam Selvon’s 1965 novel about a group of West Indian friends attempting to buy a house together in London is perfectly observedBritish landlords who put signs in windows in the 1950s and 60s warning “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” did West Indians a favour, galvanising them into buying their own homes and escaping the rat-infested hovels they were otherwise forced to rent. But there was a major impediment to home ownership: banks’ refusal to offer black people mortgages. This is the dilemma faced by the motley crew of friends led by Bat in Sam Selvon’s 1965 short novel The Housing Lark, a cast whose nicknames denote character: Poor-Me-One is self-pitying; Gallows’s explosive temper threatens the grave for his rival and “me for the gallows”. In their quest to buy a house between them, all must swear off buying fags and booze – a considerable sacrifice but as nothing compared to their preoccupation with pursuing women.As typified by Fitz, a modest “professor of womanology”, who would nonetheless “beat [his lover] like a snake” if ever she was unfaithful, the language of these cocksure, mostly Trinidadians has not matured since their forerunners a decade earlier in The Lonely Londoners (1956), Trinidad-born Selvon’s seminal tale of Windrush generation adventurers. They’re still focused on female anatomy, eyeing up and chasing “a thing” or “a blue foot” (a white woman whose stocking-less legs highlight her blue veins). Continue reading…

Sam Selvon’s 1965 novel about a group of West Indian friends attempting to buy a house together in London is perfectly observed

British landlords who put signs in windows in the 1950s and 60s warning “No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs” did West Indians a favour, galvanising them into buying their own homes and escaping the rat-infested hovels they were otherwise forced to rent. But there was a major impediment to home ownership: banks’ refusal to offer black people mortgages. This is the dilemma faced by the motley crew of friends led by Bat in Sam Selvon’s 1965 short novel The Housing Lark, a cast whose nicknames denote character: Poor-Me-One is self-pitying; Gallows’s explosive temper threatens the grave for his rival and “me for the gallows”. In their quest to buy a house between them, all must swear off buying fags and booze – a considerable sacrifice but as nothing compared to their preoccupation with pursuing women.

As typified by Fitz, a modest “professor of womanology”, who would nonetheless “beat [his lover] like a snake” if ever she was unfaithful, the language of these cocksure, mostly Trinidadians has not matured since their forerunners a decade earlier in The Lonely Londoners (1956), Trinidad-born Selvon’s seminal tale of Windrush generation adventurers. They’re still focused on female anatomy, eyeing up and chasing “a thing” or “a blue foot” (a white woman whose stocking-less legs highlight her blue veins).

Continue reading…


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