Narrative Structure in Absolute Beginners – Naomi

I’ve been musing a lot about how to approach Absolute Beginners given all that happens in the novel. Ultimately, I felt like I was reading a rambling circle of unconnected events that ended in a riot and inheritance of a surprise sum of money.

The novel is broken into four sections: “In June”, “In July”, “In August”, and “In September”. The first section of the novel, “In June” comprises more than half of the novel. Honestly, I don’t know why this section was so long. I felt like the narrator was just pulling me as the reader around the city of London with no break for day or night. What is happening? Who is there? Why does this matter? I don’t feel like I ever got a satisfactory answer to that last question.

The final section of the novel, “In September”, is where most of the action occurs. The race riots, romantic reunion with Suzette, death of the narrator’s father and discovery of his writings and wealth, and the narrator’s attempt to run away from (or towards) something are all contained in these final 55 pages. As a scholar of English, I have never suggested that a book should be 4/5 shorter … until now.

It might be that I struggled with the narrative style of “In June” and couldn’t ever really get into the novel. It might be that the narrator was jumpy throughout the novel and never named. If I were to recommend this book to someone (not enrolled in an amazing and fascinating graduate course!), I would suggest that they skip ahead to the final section and soak in all the interesting tidbits about the narrator and London.

And then I would probably speculate with them about why the narrator never actually left London. Cheers.

MacInnes, Colin. Absolute Beginners. 1959. London: Allison & Busby, 2011.

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