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Absolute Beginners [Paperback]

Colin MacInnes
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

31 July 1986
'I swore by Elvis and all the saints that this last teenage year of mine was going to be a real rave. Yes, man, come whatever, this last year of the teenage dream I was out for kicks and fantasy' London, 1958. A new phenomenon is causing a stir: the teenager. In the smoky jazz clubs of Soho and the coffee bars of Notting Hill the young and the restless - the absolute beginners - are revolutionising youth culture and forging a new carefree lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. Moving in the midst of this world of mods and rockers, Teddy gangs and trads., and snapping every scene with his trusty Rolleiflex, is MacInnes' young photographer, whose unique wit and honest views remain the definitive account of London life in the 1950s and what it means to be a teenager. In this twentieth century cult classic, MacInnes captures the spirit of a generation and creates the style bible for anyone interested in Mod culture, and the changing face of London in the era of the first race riots and the lead up to the swinging Sixties...
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New impression edition (31 July 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140021426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140021424
  • Product Dimensions: 17.6 x 11 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 494,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'The 1959 novel by Colin MacInnes was once described by Paul Weller as "the ultimate mod book". Written in the 'Beat' style of Kack Kerouac...describing their love of Italian style, from suits to cappuccinos, the novel captured the fat-moving, cosmopolitan style craved by the mods.' Shortlist --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Birth of Youth Culture 6 Mar 2010
By J C E Hitchcock TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This is the second of Colin MacInnes' London novels, often referred to as the "London Trilogy" even though each novel is a self-contained story with no connection with, or characters in common with, the other two. Each deals with a separate aspect of London life during the late fifties and early sixties: "City of Spades" with the city's growing immigrant communities, "Absolute Beginners" with the growth of youth culture and "Mr Love and Justice" with the city's underworld.

"Absolute Beginners", set in the summer of 1958 is written from the first person perspective of a teenaged freelance photographer. We never learn his name; when the novel was made into a film by Julien Temple in 1986 he was named Colin after his creator, rather oddly given that the book was never intended to be autobiographical. MacInnes would have been forty-four in 1958, a generation older than his character. The novel is divided into four chapters, entitled "In June", "In July", "In August" and "In September", of which the first, taking up half the book, is by far the longest. Each details a particular day in the narrator's life during the month in question.

The main theme of the novel is the youth culture of the period. MacInnes saw that the growing material prosperity of the late fifties, especially among younger people, had led to the growth of a new, specifically teenage, culture. The teenagers of whom he writes do not want to be dismissed as kids, but neither do they want to be classed as young adults. They see themselves as the "absolute beginners" of the title, a phrase which on the one hand indicates their youth and inexperience and on the other their desire for a fresh start, for a world as different as possible from that of the "taxpayers", as they designate the older generation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the sixties. 20 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Colin Macinnes's Absolute beginners is an astonishing novel both as a barometer of the way English life was changing in the late fifties and as an affirmation of the new youthful sensibilities that here at least seem to hold out the possibilities of a post class, post racial future. That these possibilities crystallised as a superficial materialism and selfishness through a vicarious rather than engaged youth culture is no surprise to a reader of the novel, for it is Macinnes's genius to contain the two potential trajectories of Britain's future. One of the very best English novels of the 1950's.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp, fascinating, and exciting 6 Dec 2012
By Guy
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The story follows the teenage narrator through a few months in his life as an amateur photographer and general mover and shaker in London in the late fifties. He's smart, precocious, brash with youth, focused on having fun, and hopelessly in love with his frustrating girlfriend Suzette and, in a totally different way, his geeky, caring, old-fashioned Dad. There's plenty of 'Swinging London' here (long before the term was coined), and you can see why the descriptions of the clothes and teenage patois have endeared it to generations of Mods, but there's a lot more meat to the story than that.

Despite his detached attitude and air of teenage freedom, the narrator can't escape the world around him, and it's clear from early in the novel that something nasty is brewing. Amidst his Dad's illness, his romantic frustrations, and growing racial tensions, he has quite a bit of growing up to do without losing his values and his cool. It's in the closing chapters that you recognise that this hip, swinging, seemingly episodic novel is also a really well accomplished bildungsroman, and a meditation on what it means to be young and whether teenagers were really going to change the world for the better (judgment reserved on that).

I must say, I really fell for this book. Even without the deeper meanings outlined above, it is incredibly fun. The narrator mixes with perverts, pimps, and rent boys as well as the supposed great and good, and every few pages we find him in a new scene. It's funny, observant, and irreverent. There are also some beautiful passages about London life which ring true today.

All in all, a lot to recommend it. I ordered McInnes's other novels as soon as I'd finished the last page.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute Beginners - An Absolute Winner 10 Jun 2001
By A Customer
First published in the late 1950's, 'Absolute Beginners' effectively provides a blue-print for the "Swinging Sixties" before that decade had even begun! Through the eyes of our hero, an 'absolute beginner' in his final year as a teenager, MacInnes explores the new phenomenon of the teenager (MacInnes refers to this period as the'teenage ball') and in doing so provides a remarkable insight not just into the beliefs and social mores of late 50's Britain but also the beginnings of a youth culture that has endured to this day - that of the mod. However, the novel is more than just an exploration of teenage angst and rebellion, with MacInnes challenging the reader throughout the novel and illustrating the difficulty of crossing the 'shadow line' into adulthood when often it seems as if society itself is against you.
The novel therefore remains as 'fresh' and as relevant now as the day it was written and provides essential reading for anyone who enjoys literature that is both fast-paced, exciting and thought-provoking. 'Absolute Beginners' is all of these things and more.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute Beginners makes a comeback
Famous in its day I wondered whether this book would survive as a classic. It is so well written that although it is a bit slow moving, anyway by modern standards, it keeps the... Read more
Published 24 days ago by Rdeakin
4.0 out of 5 stars English Classic
A book to be read for the sake of reading, an insight into the birth of the British teenager and perhaps modernism.A very enjoyable read.
Published 29 days ago by R C TAYLOR
1.0 out of 5 stars Bad
What a poor book,I found it unreadable,very dated style of writing I wondered why I had not heard of this book!
Published 29 days ago by brenda
4.0 out of 5 stars GOOD READ
I read the book as it fitted into the era I was trying to recapture. A good read, if a little difficult to "tune" into the writer's narrative immediately. Read more
Published 2 months ago by luvzlife
4.0 out of 5 stars Absolute Beginners
Great portrait of London life. Far better than the film - I needed to paint my own pictures of those times. I really liked the speed at which it moved,.
Published 2 months ago by Seagull
5.0 out of 5 stars London revealed
Having enjoyed books by his brother, Graham, I was keen to read the "other" Macnnes and was not disappointed. Read more
Published 6 months ago by D. S. Thomson
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy this book!
Not being one to admit to defeat, I'm still trying to force myself to read this book. Possibly the dreariest read ever. Slow moving, badly written and very, very dull.
Published 9 months ago by Jane
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic
A really prescient book, surprisingly edgy for its time. and covering an interesting period of recent history. For ease of supply I bought the ebook.
Published 9 months ago by Anne
5.0 out of 5 stars nearly finishder
a convincing insight into a long gone world ending and a new one beginning naive teenage dreams and for me at my age a kind of nostalgic yearning induced but thank god for central... Read more
Published 12 months ago by a j pitt
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolute Beginners
Fantastic book... nothing much like the film, if you've seen it.
The book is far better.
You get a flavour of late 50s London and the emerging youth culture from the... Read more
Published on 15 Aug 2011 by Mr. Colin C. Hawksworth
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