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Absolute Beginners Paperback – November 25, 1985

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Paperback, November 25, 1985
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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 201 pages
  • Publisher: Plume (November 25, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525481893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525481898
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,498,515 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'Mr MacInnes is a lyrical celebrator of contemporary London, and above all, a writer with a purpose' --Angus Wilson --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

COLIN MACINNES (1914-76), son of novelist Angela Thirkell, cousin of Stanley Baldwin and Rudyard Kipling, grandson of Burne-Jones, was brought up in Australia but lived most of his life in London about which he wrote with a warts-and-all relish that earned him a reputation as the literary Hogarth of his day. Bisexual, outsider, champion of youth, ‘pale-pink’ friend of Black Londoners and chronicler of English life, MacInnes described himself as ‘a very nosy person’ who ‘found adultery in Hampstead indescribably dull’ and was much more at home in the coffee bars and jazz clubs of Soho and Notting Hill. A talented off-beat journalist and social observer, he is best known for his three London novels, City of Spades, Absolute Beginners and Mr Love and Justice. MacInnes died of cancer in 1976. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

There are, however, three good reasons to read it.
J C E Hitchcock
The tensions between whites and coloureds came to a head in the Notting Hill race riot, which takes place in this book.
Daniel J. Hamlow
The first half of the book I found particularly boring & with very little happening.
James Montgomery

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By shawn@net-connect.net on December 3, 1997
Format: Paperback
A must have for anyone interested in youth culture, swinging london of the 1950s and 60s, and the Mod scene... Something of a youth exploitation or confessional novel, but nonetheless an excellent picture of the generation born in post-world war II England, the first (and possibly one of the last) to be better off than their parents, the children of Britain's baby boom, obsessed with Italian fashion and American Jazz and all night clubs and coffee houses-- this is a portrait of one such youth and his life... It's the best piece of this type to come out of this period and seen by many as MacInnes' best work. Of further note by MacInnes are the other "London novels", Mr. Love and Justice and City of Spades. What a shame it is that no publisher has cared enough to keep these great books in print.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Daniel J. Hamlow HALL OF FAME on April 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
MacInnes's novel, set in 1958, London, demonstrates the status of the teenager as a new economic class is demonstrated early on when the narrator tells us: "This teenage ball had had a real splendour in the days when kids discovered that for the first time since centuries of kingdom-come, they'd money, which had always been denied to us at the best time in life to use it, namely, when you're young and strong. ... it had a real savage splendour in the days when we found that no one couldn't sit on our faces anymore because we'd loot to spend at last, and our world was to be our world..."
The narrator is a free lance photographer who takes pictures of the night life and of anything depicting the new London and its denizens, hoping for an exhibition. He loves jazz music, is integrationist, and against class. He lives in a slum named Napoli because he enjoys the low rent and how he is accepted, no matter what he does, and no one questions his background, educated or class. He wouldn't be treated that way in Belgravia, the fashionable, upscale district of London.
He has a bunch of interesting friends, such as the very friendly Fabulous Hoplife, who swings the other way, and the Wiz, a huckster who wants to make it into the bigtime, realizing there's a goldmine with the economic prosperity and renewed London. He wants to get there via illegal means, much to the narrator's chagrin. There's Big Jill, a big and friendly les to whom the narrator confides to about Suze; she's kind of like an older sister to him.
But he's really after his dreamgirl Crepe Suzette, or Suze, a pretty girl who's getting her kicks by sleeping around with every black she fancies.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Privacy, Please on March 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
Like many young Americans, I read this book because David Bowie was involved with making it into a movie and because the British band The Jam had a record called "Absolute Beginners". I thought it would be an interesting peep into British mod culture. As others have pointed out, the culture in the book is a little bit "pre-Mod" in that it appears to be set a few years prior to "Quadrophenia." Yet, the youthful narrator of the book, who is the "mod" type, is still definitely distinct in his style and political views from Teddy boys as personified by "Ed the Ted." He is portrayed as just young enough to have missed most of the WWII hardships, unlike his father and some others in the book who have been worn down and scarred by that baggage.

Unlike the majority of British movies and books that are set in the 50s, this book is remarkably optimistic. The nameless narrator has money to spend, colorful friends (including a stylish gay party boy and an ex-debutante) to have fun with, and an open mind towards new developments such as the influx of immigrants and people of color into his geographic space. In contrast to his hidebound elders he's pretty ebullient, and the only blot on his horizon has to do with his teenage girlfriend Suze, who cheats on him with blacks (which interestingly, doesn't turn the narrator's attitude negative towards them - he's truly primed for the upcoming free love generation) and then informs him she's marrying someone else. The book isn't much of a story, more a stream-of-consciousness narration of our hero hopping from a wild party, to a conversation with his father, to an attempt to patch things up with Suze, and so forth and so on. The story thus zips from place to place much like the narrator does on a scooter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
The thing to keep in mind about London in the late 1950s is that it wasn't cool. London wouldn't become one of the capitals of youth style until 1963 and later (brilliantly recounted in Shawn Levy's READY, STEADY, GO!). In this great novel, Colin MacInnes paints the portrait of an age that has received little attention, a time when England did not yet possess a full-fledged youth culture, a creature whose time was coming round at last, and was slouching towards Soho to be born. In the depiction of teens in search of self-authentication and self-realization, the novel is very much an English equivalent of Kerouac's ON THE ROAD.
Like the Kerouac novel, ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS is brilliant not for its story, but for its characters and the almost sociological and anthropological quality of its chronicle. Above all, it chronicles the social upheaval that was already taking place in London, with the central place that drugs, jazz, sex, and alcohol was more openly playing in youth culture. There is also a new and heightened consciousness of race, as well as an absence of the values that had been the mainstay of the previous generation. Although it wasn't yet the sixties, you can feel it coming throughout the book.
I don't want to mislead a prospective reading by promoting this as one of the great classics. It isn't. But like the central character, who is an aspiring photographer, the novel serves as a fictional photo essay on a neglected and under-romanticized period of English life. I can't imagine anyone not truly loving it.
The novel was in the 1980s made into a fairly decent musical (with an absolutely astonishing opening sequence) starring Patsy Kensit and with a host of musical performers in minor roles, including David Bowie, Ray Davies, and Sade. But I would definitely recommend the book over the film.
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