ABSOLUTE BEGINNERS - COLIN MACINNES
It's the mod bible, according to Paul Weller, and if he says so then so it is for who else could be better placed to make such a judgement? Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes evokes a period and paints a picture of a time long past when the idea of 'teenage' and a London emerging from the wreckage of World War 2 was something very new and exciting. It's a description of a time when Britain was on the cusp of a great sea change where economic spending power and the very idea of it lent a piquancy to those never in possession of it before.
The story is neither here nor there because the point of Absolute Beginners is in the language, the descriptions and the observations, and if read like this is thoroughly enjoyable if not - it should be said - a tad slow. Practically everyone has a nickname apart from the unnamed narrator, and everyone talks in an endearing hep cat jive slang that displays a love of English and American idioms. People are referred to as 'cats', girls as 'chicks', police as 'cowboys', and coloured people as 'Spades'. Most endearing of all, a good many sentences spoken by the characters finish with the word 'child' in the way that people nowadays would say 'mate'. It's a term used with affection and one that's never used nowadays at all - and it really should.
It's interesting that Colin MacInnes was in his forties when he wrote Absolute Beginners because reading it today it feels as though it's absolutely the voice of a teenager. Though very specific to the time period it's set in, as in 1958, there's an authenticity about the narrator's voice and outlook that doesn't fall into cliché or direness. Three years after publication, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange would be published and though not acknowledged, the influence of Absolute Beginners upon the way Burgess had his Droogs talk is obvious.
At one point, the narrator thinks to himself: "My lord, one thing is certain, and that's that they'll make musicals one day about the glamour-studded 1950s." Little could MacInnes imagine that one day a musical would be made of his book starring David Bowie and the legendary Lionel Blair. Not that the film of Absolute Beginners should really be associated with the book because they just don't compare as one is absolute rubbish and the other is required reading for anyone with the slightest interest in British culture.
Paul Weller is probably right but I do wonder how Julien Temple got it so spectacularly wrong?