I visited Hay-on-Wye in the past week, the celebrated town of books on the England-Wales border, and came away with a few modest purchases. I picked up a first edition of Rumer Godden's 1946 novel The River - which I have already devoured, what a good book! ... not particularly rare but nice to have. And a few political pamphlets. And this copy of the Partisan Review which I got because the excellent, effervescent Colin MacInnes is among the contributors.
MacInnes is celebrated above all as a novelist and the author of Absolute Beginners, such a glorious read and one of my favourite novels. He was also an incisive essayist - Bernard Kops, I know, regards him as a more talented essayist than novelist.
This issue includes MacInnes on 'English Queerdom' - he devised the word 'Queerdom', and this may well be an early instance of a gay writer re-appropriating the term 'queer' in an article intended for a readership beyond the gay/queer community.
The Partisan Review was a curious journal - established in the 1930s as a loosely Communist-aligned publication, it changed its line and in the 1950s and '60s received covert funding from the CIA. This issue acknowledges a link with the American Committee for Cultural Freedom - an organisation which, it later transpired, was in part established and funded by the CIA. There is a rich irony in America's cold war establishment funding the publication of a piece by MacInnes, an anarchist and rebel.
The Review finally succumbed as recently as 2003. Here's MacInnes's sparkling article from 1961 -
The most I've ever spent at Oxfam Books - but what a gem! The first edition of the first of Colin MacInnes's London novels, with the original dust jacket, a bit battered but all there (the front at least).
The jacket is memorable - designed by Alexander Weatherson, who seems to have knocked around in the same circles as MacInnes and his friends at the time. Certainly, he was photographed by Ida Kar in 1958, the year after City of Spades was published.
The original art work for this cover is for sale, it just so happens. For £1,250.
And the book? An account of the arrival in London of a young Nigerian, Johnny Macdonald Fortune. 'It is a picaresque novel of the coloured world within a world of which so few of us know anything, although it lies around us every day ...', says the blurb on the dust jacket. 'The mood is sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic, but at all times filled with the affection for coloured men and women without which, the author believes, all understanding of them is impossible.'
Talk about 'them' and 'us'! But this was 1957. And the novel itself is a lot less patronising:
My first action on reaching the English capital was to perform what I've always promised my sister Peach I would. Namely, leaving my luggages at the Gvernment hostel, to go straight out by taxi (oh, so slow, compared with our sleek Lagos limousines!) to the famous central Piccadilly tube station where I took a one-stop ticket, went down on the escalator, and then ran up the same steps in the wrong direction. It was quite easy to reach the top, and our elder brother Christmas was wrong to warn it would be impossible to me. Naturally, the ticket official had his word to say, but I explained it was my promise to my brother Christmas and my sister Peach ever since in our childhood, and he yielded up.
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