Absolute Beginners Summary

  • Last updated on July 10, 2023
Title: Absolute Beginners

Author: Colin MacInnes

Publish Date: 1959

Genre: Fiction

Page Length: 222 pages


Absolute Beginners, written by Colin MacInnes and published in 1959, is a thought-provoking novel set in 1950s London. The story unfolds during a vibrant era of cultural changes and follows the experiences of the protagonist, a young photographer and aspiring writer named Colin. This coming-of-age novel delves into a world of racial tension, youth rebellion, and social upheaval, providing keen insights into the challenges and complexities faced by young people during this period.

Set in the vibrant neighborhoods of Soho and Notting Hill, the novel is divided into three sections, each offering a unique perspective on the changing social dynamics of the time.

Section One introduces readers to Colin as he navigates his way through the colorful jazz scene and the emerging subcultures that define the time. Colin encounters characters such as Mr. Cool, a charismatic and enigmatic jazz pianist, with whom he develops a friendship. Through Colin's interactions with these characters, the author unveils the theme of cultural dissonance along with the racial prejudices that pervade society.

In Section Two, Colin's attention turns toward the Notting Hill race riots, a real-life event in the summer of 1958. As a journalist, he works alongside other reporters to document the struggles faced by the marginalized West Indian community in London. The racial tensions that come to the forefront propel Colin into a deeper understanding of the rifts rooted in the British society.

The final section of the novel, Section Three, delves into Colin's personal life as he navigates relationships with various women, including his former lover Crepe Suzette, a gorgeous fashion model. Colin's search for identity and his willingness to embrace new experiences symbolize the restless spirit of youth during this era.

Throughout the book, MacInnes highlights the influences of music, fashion, and cultural movements as integral components of the characters' lives. The soundtrack of jazz, rock 'n' roll, and other musical genres underscores their emotions, struggles, and aspirations. Fashion serves as a tool for self-expression and social distinction in a rapidly changing world, reflecting the evolving trends of the era.

Absolute Beginners captures the essence of a transformative period in London's history, painting a vivid picture of the era's cultural, social, and political landscape. The novel delves into issues of race, class, and identity, examining the intense conflicts that arise among individuals from different backgrounds. Through Colin's journey, readers gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities that shaped British society during this influential juncture in history.

In conclusion, Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes provides an engrossing and insightful exploration of the challenges faced by a young generation of rebels, artists, and misfits during the 1950s in London. By delving into the lives of its diverse characters, the novel sheds light on the struggles of identity, racial prejudice, and the desire to break free from societal constraints. MacInnes' masterpiece remains significant in its historical relevance, serving as a timeless reminder of the transformative power of youth and the ongoing pursuit of personal expression amidst societal changes.

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