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 It's these divisions which are explored in this accomplished first novel, winner of the Saga prize for unpublished black British authors.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.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
video
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions