Dissing the brothers

Cathy Newman learns the fate of a black figurehead; Some Kind Of Black by Diran Adebayo, Virago, pounds 9.99

At the beginning of Some Kind of Black, Dele and his friend Concrete- so named because of his talent for head-butting - play a game of blackjack. Having not been able to agree on the rules of the game, the two decide to play by the Queensberry rules in north London and by Concrete's ("Concrete madness") in the south. In the course of the game, Dele discovers that Concrete has "slipped in some new piece of slyness", symbolic of the divisions in the black community. It's these divisions which are explored in this accomplished first novel, winner of the Saga prize for unpublished black British authors. Diran Adebayo draws on his experiences as a black Oxford graduate, born and bred in London but of Nigerian descent. Dele, Adebayo's fictional alter ego, indulges in a summer of sex, smokes and substances of an increasingly potent order - first in Oxford and then in London.

Dele "clocks" and "scopes" the female populations of Oxford and Brixton, working his way through Helena (white and horsey), Cheryl ("his side of coffee-coloured"), and Andria, a white girl with a Jamaican accent who deals in "GBH" and animal tranquillisers. But another woman, Dele's sister Dapo, is the catalyst for the novel's main action. Suffering from sickle cell anaemia, Dapo collapses in police custody, and sinks into a coma.

Dapo's fate propels Dele into the uneasy role of black figurehead, presiding over a feuding community. Adebayo has said that, now the "Afro- centric phase" is past, there is a need for self-critique. So Dele exposes the differences between blacks and the sometimes fatal consequences of black Londoners' "bogus brothery".

By dissing his contemporaries Dele finds himself a social and cultural pariah, equally ill at ease at university, when tittering students force him to take part in a slave auction, and in London, where, at a rally protesting at police brutality, Dele "got lost in a great sight of blackness." Although at first Dele plays up to a white stereotype of black culture - allowing whites to "indulge their romance of the real nigga" - he eventually dismisses this as play-acting. In an epiphanic moment, he dubs himself the titular "some kind of black", a phrase suggesting shame at not living up to black expectations, and confusion about his identity.

Some Kind of Black is an individual and thought-provoking debut, but it does have its longeurs. Although touted as a coming-of-age novel, along the lines of Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia, it fails to trace Dele's growing stature or understanding, despite his "troublesome summer", and we are left at the end of the novel with the problems confronted by the card-players at the beginning. But if at times the book resembles a lecture, it is accompanied by some interesting slides: vignettes of London and Oxford life played out on Holywell Street, Broad Street, Effra Road and Tulse Hill.

Some Kind of Black breaks out of the generic ghetto implied in the words "black writing". Just as Dele resists Helena's inclination to "respond to him on the level of pity or sympathy, the way contrary black critics said that white people got off on Toni Morrison books", Adebayo's novel challenges his readers - both black and white - not to "get off" on his writing, but to think about the issues it raises.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas