Andrew Salkey: The Adventures of Catullus Kelly
This novel starts off well and then slips into the breasts like mangoes Bad Sex in Fiction style. Catullus Kelly is a young Jamaican. He is a graduate in English literature and his parents or, more particularly, his mother have sent him to London to improve himself. His mother sends him money so he does not need to work but he does occasionally. The novel starts off on a sort of picaresque journey round London for the young Jamaican. He stays in a rooming house, owned by Erasmus Thompson, a Jamaican who owns various properties in London and is married to Bridie, an Irish woman. Erasmus acts as a guide and mentor to Catullus. It is Erasmus that sends Catullus off on his journey. His first stop is to the White Defence League, where he learns of a book The Shape of Skulls to Come, apparently a racist book written by one Aethelstan Gordon-Venning. He is not allowed to buy the book and spends much of the novel trying to track down both the book and its author. Of course, he ultimately finds both but in an unlikely place. He is next picked up by a white prostitute in a Jaguar, Olga, who ends up paying him. He will see her again.
Catullus continues his journey with visits to Soho, where he meets a group of homosexuals, the BBC World Service (wittily called the Temperance Broadcasting Unit – TBU) and a barber’s shop staffed by West Indians who spend a lot of time talking but little barbering. He writes a script for the TBU about the homosexuals but is rejected. He takes a job in a comprehensive school as a teacher where the pupils make fun of him and finally accept him. He takes them to a nudie film and nearly loses his job over it. No matter, as he will not return to the job but goes to work in a coffee bar in Leicester Square. All the while Salkey has been poking fun at the British and, indeed, at the West Indians. While négritude is frequently discussed, it is not practised and Salkey is at pains to point out that the Africans look down on the West Indians.
So far, so good. Salkey is making the point about racial attitudes in Britain and not just white towards black, as well as showing how Sixties London looks to a West Indian. But then Catullus, who has had his fair share of sex (Olga, Dulcie, who lives upstairs, and Philippa, the wife of the coffee bar owner) then seems to devote himself entirely to sex, often with two women together. In short, the message becomes that white English women all want to screw a black man. Whether this is true or not, it does make for boring reading. And yes, he does use the breasts like mangoes line. People disappear – the barbers are arrested for example – and Catullus is summoned back to Jamaica by his parents. A postscript shows that he goes mad and is put in an asylum. Now if only Salkey had kept up the first part.
First published by Hutchinson, London in 1969