Author Colin Wilson first made his reputation as an “Angry Young Man” in 1950s London where he spent time in the British Museum reading room and the cafés of Soho. Members of the group remember him being around although he wasn’t involved in the group itself. Alan Bain recalls meeting him in the Gyre and Gimble – “we met just the once, but it was a memorable occasion, as a fight broke out while we musicians - about five of us that night - were playing at the other end to my usual spot. Colin managed to stand aloof and out of it.”
In Colin Wilson’s second and most autobiographical novel, Adrift in Soho, he introduces several characters involved in the esoteric life. One such is Major Noyes (a pun on major noise?), a rather bombastic book dealer with “the best collection of occult books in London.” He offers the hero a glass of mandrake wine, and asks him if he is a student of the occult:
‘Not exactly. It interests me…’
Adrift in Soho (New London Edition, 2011) p. 53
(MacGregor Mathers was a British occultist, one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and author of The Kabbalah Unveiled).
Another fascinating character is the beggarly Welshman Danvers Reed. The hero first meets Danvers at the house of Major Noyes, where Danvers is negotiating the purchase of a book written in Hebrew. “Still living in that lavatory?” Major Noyes ask him.
“Everybody lusts after self-approval. Everybody wants to be admired and envied by his fellows. So what use is all the talk about salvation? Nobody wants to be saved. Everybody wants to feel important. So I made a vow that I’d try to save myself from lusting after the approval of fools. I never wash. I never change my clothes. [...] This makes people hate me. So I’m never tempted to think well of my fellow men.”
Adrift in Soho (New London Edition, 2011) p. 171
Danvers turns out to be a follower of the Ancient Greek Cynic philosopher, Crates of Thebes.
Other characters in the book include a lady expert on the cult of Mithras (who also seemed to hold strong ideas on the wickedness of Buddhism), Ironfoot Jack, the uncrowned king of the bohemians, Theosophists and Hindus, and a Yoga practitioner on a circle line train.
Adrift in Soho is well worth a read for a flavour of the times.
You can also watch a new film adaptation of the novel directed by Pablo Behrens. For more information visit the Adrift in Soho Facebook Page.