Basil Dearden’s Victim (1961), one of the Eclipse Collection in Criterion’s library, a “lost, forgotten, or overshadowed” classic. It’s about a “closeted, married barrister who bravely takes on a blackmailer targeting a group of vulnerable gay London men from various walks of life”: “one of the first films to address homophobia head-on, a cry of protest against British laws forbidding homosexuality”. This is west, not south, London (with a pub in Covent Garden and a home in Cheswick) but I was intrigued by the theme and the talk of an extended chase scene through a gritty and not-at-all-touristy part of London.
But back to reading: Alex Wheatle’s Brixton Rock is immediately engaging and is said to have been written in response to another book set in Brixton, which the author felt didn’t accurately represent the experience of living there. Brenton Brown was born of a black mother and a white father, although he’s grown up in the system and only come to understand some elements of his own life story.
Wheatle’s afterword suggests there are many other autobiographical elements to the story. It certainly feels authentic and immerses readers in quotidian detail of life in Brixton at ground level. One has the feeling of being able to track the characters’ pathways through the city (there are a lot of bus routes specifically named) and the sense of being able to recognize the locations described (the city market, for instance).
Liccle Bit focuses more on character and dialogue. Perhaps because it’s written for young adult readers too, there is an emphasis on scenic passages; entire passages are spoken word and the rhythm of the speech also contributes to the sense of the neighbourhood and community.
It’s the sort of book that leads you to intend on reading only a few more pages but the scene takes hold and you read further after all. And on that note, the rest of the series is tempting too. (I haven’t gotten to Island Songs yet and I might save it for another time as this is a short and crowded reading month.)