City of Spades - Colin MacInnes City of Spades is the first novel in colin macinnes' once-celebrated "London Trilogy", a trio that has at its center Absolute Beginners, which is one of my favorite novels. City is a junior member of the series; perhaps because its portraits of white middle class folks' engagement with african culture is a simplistic one of easy parody of easy targets, or perhaps because its candide-like central character johnny fortune's wholehearted embracing of cultural stereotypes is by its very nature a discomfiting experience...or maybe because the urban patois that is rife throughout the novel comes across as dated or even reprehensible. there is always a certain discomfort when reading a white author's depiction of non-white culture; the reader almost holds their breath in anticipation of any noticeable condescension, lack of realism, or use of stereotype. for me, those were not problems with City; the problem was solely in the jokey characterization of the white characters. perhaps not the worst fault in the world, but i'm not a fan of easy targets in general.

writing this review reminds me of an aggravating GR review of The Giving Tree, in which the reviewer takes it upon himself to write the first third of the review in his own version of urban patois. there is so much wrong with a clearly intellectual white guy deciding to use slang in which he is not a fellow traveler and in which he is clearly not familiar, as a joke, to mock something or some people in a way that is neither credible nor speaks of any empathy towards folks who aren't himself - in a way that actually doesn't make a whole lot of sense. the joke becomes pointless, meaningless. while it is irritating to hear various middle class white or asian kids' ease with Nigga this, Nigga that, it is even more aggravating to read easy condescension from an adult who is widely read and who surely must be armed with all the lessons learned from living (and reading) in the adult world.

this is, in a way, an opposite of the problem i have with City, but the problems are linked by race and condescension. the white characters in City are jokes and so they speak and think like jokes....but to what end? to make a point that whites are not hep and blacks are the cool cats? the novel overall is a worthy one, funny and poignant and rough around the edges, an entertaining portrait of a certain place and time in swingin' london. but overall i couldn't escape the sense of Methinks the Author Doth Protest Too Much. fortunately, whitey stopped hating himself so much and went on to produce the absolute classic Absolute Beginners.