Though much of the The Housing Lark remains highly relevant today – along with the racism, casual and overt, there are references to police discrimination and debates about respectability – the sexual politics of some of the characters remain stuck firmly in the 1960s. Fitz, a “professor of womanology”, tells his friends that “All woman want is blows to keep them quiet”. Underneath their swagger and bravado, however, is an acute sense of loss. “Loneliness does bust these fellars arse”, the narrator explains as the badinage fades away. They long “to reminisce and hear the old dialect” and, during their trip to Hampton Court, they settle by the river. “Out of the blue, old-talk does start up”: “it doesn’t matter what the topic is as long as words floating about … It like a game, all of them throwing words in the air like a ball”. The Housing Lark affirms Selvon’s skill as a storyteller – one who delves deeply into things that matter, even as he seems to toss words casually in the air.
While Selvon’s unnamed narrator gives an unmediated portrayal of their objectification of women, he’s more inclined to critique humorously the delusions of their overstated prowess. It’s all bravura, masking insecurity and feelings of nostalgia – “in truth loneliness does bust these fella arse”. Worse still, the anglicisation seen in a friend – “he even eating a currant bun and drinking a cup of tea for lunch!” – might soon apply to them. One of the many delights of the novel’s emphasis on this colony of romancers and dreamers, liming (hanging) around Brixton market, is their strategies for survival which include pretending to be from South America to circumvent local antipathy towards West Indians.