Style and narrative techniques: London in summer
Now read the ‘London in summer’ section (from ‘Oh what a time it is’ on p. 92 to ‘what it is all about’ on p. 102).
- How would you describe the differences in the style and narrative techniques used by Selvon in this section from the rest of the novel?
- How does Selvon represent the characters of Moses and Galahad in this section?
- This section begins with a celebration of the effect of summer on black and white Londoners alike, a rare moment in the novel of communion across ethnic divides. This gives way to a rapid succession of episodes, similar in structure to the novel as a whole, though encapsulated here in a single, unpunctuated sentence running over ten pages. This device gives a more fluid rhythm and faster tempo to the writing here, blurring the individual anecdotes into an impressionistic summary of these characters’ experiences. Nasta, drawing on other literary parallels, has described this section as a ‘long prose poem to London, a painful and lyrical love song’ (p. xv). You may have noticed the prevalence of poetic effects such as repetition – phrases such as ‘coasting a lime’ that have already become a part of the lexicon of the novel recur here frequently – and alliteration: ‘see all them pretty pieces of skin taking suntan and how the old geezers like the sun they would sit on the benches and smile everywhere’ (p. 92).
- The narrative voice closely echoes the speech patterns of the main characters, particularly Moses and Galahad, taking Selvon’s manipulation of narrative techniques to more subtle levels. Phrases associated with each of them are woven into the narrative voice. The references to ‘a sort of fog’ and ‘the streets of London paved with gold’ echo the opening pages of the novel, while the description of ‘the sun in the sky like a forceripe orange’ (p. 93) reminds us of Galahad’s first reaction to the English climate (p. 23). The different perspectives of Galahad and Moses are invoked at the end of the section in a passage that, while maintaining the distance of the third-person narrator, also fuses their respective speech patterns:
- all these things happen in the blazing summer under the trees … and in the night the world turn upside down and everybody hustling that is life that is London oh lord Galahad say when the sweetness of summer get in him he say he would never leave the old Brit’n as long as he live and Moses sigh a long sigh like a man who live life and see nothing at all in it and who frighten as the years go by wondering what it is all about.
- (pp. 101–2)
Although Moses is the linking factor between the main characters in the novel, the respective narratives of Moses and Galahad are the most closely interrelated, as the London summer section shows. In the later stages of the novel their connection is maintained. Reminiscence is a crucial component in their relationship; their first point of connection is to share recollections of characters and events from their Trinidadian past. Towards the end of the novel, in the midst of ‘one bitter season’ (p. 116) of scarce employment, they resort again to memories of the Caribbean to raise their spirits.