Category: Patrick Hamilton

book review – The Slaves of Solitude – Patrick Hamilton

The moment I put this book down I realised that it might just have described one of those scenes that inspires you to change your life.

Patrick Hamilton is expert at taking a small world with a select cast of characters and putting it under the microscope. There every detail is magnified and what might seem trivial to outsiders or in the world at large becomes monumentally important to those in the group.

Whereas it was a group of drinking friends in Hangover Square here with Slaves of Solitude it is a boarding house. A few years have passed since the events of Hangover with the country at war and the main character, Miss Roach, living in the suburban outskirts of the capital in a boarding house.

The boarding house is almost exclusively inhabited by old people. But once an American soldier and a young German woman Miss Kulgeman are added to the mix it becomes explosive. Before those two additional characters arrive the battle is between Roach and the old gentleman Thwaites. They verbally joust over the dining room table night after night.

But in her effort to be friendly and find an ally Roach invites the German girl into the boarding house just at a moment when her relationship with the lieutenant Pike is stoking her fantasies of escaping the drudgery of her life. But that starts to fall apart and the German girl highlights the stuffiness of Roach and manages to spoil that relationship.

But things start to become unbearable and Hamilton manages to crank up the rivalry and the bitterness of the women with the added vitriol of Thwaites. It all looks as if it is going wrong for Roach and she is not only going to be eclipsed by Kulgeman but destroyed by her. But the German over reaches herself and as the lieutenant pours out the drinks and pushes Thwaites over the edge the boarding house becomes off limits for Kulgeman.

But Roach has come into some money and as she heads for Claridges and London suddenly all those moments of bitterness and rivalry, fighting over the comb etc. That is the moment that anyone stuck in a dead end job or a relationship they cannot stand can dream of. That is what it must feel like to come out on the other side. That is the inspiration.

In many respects because of the upbeat ending and the release for the main character this is a more satisfactory read than Hangover Square and one that will have a lasting influence on my life.

book review – Hangover Square – Patrick Hamilton

Literature often struggles to convey the intangibles but Patrick Hamilton manages to convince you of the mental condition that his main character George Bone is suffering from with his mind going Click as he struggles to remember what he has been doing.

All he can remember when he comes out of his periods of amnesia is that he has to kill Netta a woman who is tormenting him with cruelty. But he keeps postponing the moment when he will carry out the deed and carries on a life of misery punctuated by bouts of unfounded optimism supported by drinking. But this is a story not of just about alcoholism as much as of a life of idleness where the public house plays the function that the workplace would in other lives. it is against the backdrop of the bar that Bone, Netta and the others in the gang can meet, dream, scheme and bully.

Bone is always the butt of the jokes and the love, which he never hides, that he has for Netta is used to abuse and torment him. She takes his money and his favours ands constantly throws them back in his face. When he hopes to have a moment with her alone someone else is also dragged along and he is used as part of a scheme Netta has for trying to break into films. Because Bone knows an old school friend with connections with a theatrical agent he is in a position to be played for a fool. The climax comes in Brighton and a depressed Bone suffers his final agonies and triumphs before his mind clicks and he forgets them all.

As Bone drifts through his empty life dreaming of becoming a golf professional and moving to Maidenhead or developing a friendship with the cat of the hotel he is staying in London, and the microcosm of Earls Court, is used to show a city on the brink of war. Those laughing and wasting their time in the bars had only months left to do so before the bombs come and the front arrives at their door. Hamilton is painting out a world than for some needed change. But he is also making the point here that while the politicians were trying so hard to make peace and Hitler’s armies were marching across Europe it was possible, even easy for some, to indulge in naval gazing.

The final twist as the mid clicks with one final and devastating effect leaves you mourning Bone but also wondering just how the inter-war generation could get it so wrong. As their final minutes of peace were disappearing they were drinking themselves into oblivion with no ambition other than to court other drunkards or to find more money to keep buying the booze.

At points the story is so well described it is like watching old black and white footage of London and the characters that Hamilton describes are believable and engagable. But the intervening years between when the book was written and published means that the moral compass has shifted direction somewhat and it is not as immediately clear as to what conclusion you should be making about these people.

The arguments about the good and bad of Bone and Netta keeps running in your head long after the book has finished.

book review – Hangover Square – Patrick Hamilton

Literature often struggles to convey the intangibles but Patrick Hamilton manages to convince you of the mental condition that his main character George Bone is suffering from with his mind going Click as he struggles to remember what he has been doing.

All he can remember when he comes out of his periods of amnesia is that he has to kill Netta a woman who is tormenting him with cruelty. But he keeps postponing the moment when he will carry out the deed and carries on a life of misery punctuated by bouts of unfounded optimism supported by drinking. But this is a story not of just about alcoholism as much as of a life of idleness where the public house plays the function that the workplace would in other lives. it is against the backdrop of the bar that Bone, Netta and the others in the gang can meet, dream, scheme and bully.

Bone is always the butt of the jokes and the love, which he never hides, that he has for Netta is used to abuse and torment him. She takes his money and his favours ands constantly throws them back in his face. When he hopes to have a moment with her alone someone else is also dragged along and he is used as part of a scheme Netta has for trying to break into films. Because Bone knows an old school friend with connections with a theatrical agent he is in a position to be played for a fool. The climax comes in Brighton and a depressed Bone suffers his final agonies and triumphs before his mind clicks and he forgets them all.

As Bone drifts through his empty life dreaming of becoming a golf professional and moving to Maidenhead or developing a friendship with the cat of the hotel he is staying in London, and the microcosm of Earls Court, is used to show a city on the brink of war. Those laughing and wasting their time in the bars had only months left to do so before the bombs come and the front arrives at their door. Hamilton is painting out a world than for some needed change. But he is also making the point here that while the politicians were trying so hard to make peace and Hitler’s armies were marching across Europe it was possible, even easy for some, to indulge in naval gazing.

The final twist as the mid clicks with one final and devastating effect leaves you mourning Bone but also wondering just how the inter-war generation could get it so wrong. As their final minutes of peace were disappearing they were drinking themselves into oblivion with no ambition other than to court other drunkards or to find more money to keep buying the booze.

At points the story is so well described it is like watching old black and white footage of London and the characters that Hamilton describes are believable and engagable. But the intervening years between when the book was written and published means that the moral compass has shifted direction somewhat and it is not as immediately clear as to what conclusion you should be making about these people.

The arguments about the good and bad of Bone and Netta keeps running in your head long after the book has finished.

Slaves of Solitude – post V

It is with some relief that the balance of power swings and you sense that it would have been a difficult book to have tried to have got a mass audience for had Roach lost out in her battle. She almost does though as the dual enemies of Vicki the german lodger and Mr Twaites the old bully team up together to make her life uncomfortable.

Vicki even seems to steal her man the lieutenant who Roach has briefly dreamed of escaping with. But as she gets harder things start to go her way. This is when Hamilton is at his best because having had characters like Mr Prest on the fringes he chooses now to bring them in for a brief cameo with important results.

The book ends with hamilton voicing the view that all those caught up in the war deserved to be pitied. Roach has survived the assualt on mediocrity and finds that back in London she sees with fresh eyes and can breathe again. A feeling that many of us can only dream of.

A review will follow soon…

Slaves of Solitude – post IV

There is a brilliant moment when Hamilton has you alongside Miss Roach asking the same questions she does about whether or not she is imagining the hatred of her German friend. is she over reacting? Has she blown petty things out of proportion?

You never feel she has but it hangs in the balance for quite a while and it is not until a catalogue of slights stacks up that you know for sure that Miss Roach is right and the German woman has it in for her.

By then the atmosphere in the kettle drum that is the Rosamund Tea Rooms is causing discomfort and distorting the reality of Roach and the other guests. It questions the assumption that those at home were getting away with out suffering and shows that when liberties are denied you because of fear or rationing the costs can be high.

You are rooting for Roach but fear that she will lose her own war against Germany.

More tomorrow…

Slaves of Solitude – post III

There is a different feeling with this book to Hangover Square because the threat is not as clearly defined from the start. There is no immediate Netta here and you sense that far from being ill at ease with one individual it is the world that scares Miss Roach.

But the figures of the German vet’s secretary Vicki emerges as someone that initially had been befriended by Miss Roach but someone who is now more than able to exert her position.

She does this by taking the initiative and getting herself installed at the boarding house, making a connection with Miss Roach’s American love interest and in some respects siding against her friend in the battle against the old grump Mr Thwaites.

As she tried to rationalise her growing sense of unease to herself Miss Roach ends up convincing herself that her fear and dislike of Vicki is groundless. But as the reader you sense she is right to feel uneasy.

More soon…

Slaves of Solitude – post II

They always say that writers should write about what they know and you can tell that Patrick Hamilton knows a great deal about pubs.

As Miss Roach gets involved with an American based nearby she is dragged into the pub on a regular basis where she is given large gins and kissed by the drunk solider. She is both afraid but excited and she views the relationship as one means of escaping from the dreary world of the boarding house.

Where Hamilton is excellent is building up a detailed picture of a very small world – in this case the boarders at the Rosamund Tea Rooms – and as a result being able to transmit the significance of what otherwise would appear trivial and mundane.

Therefore you realise just how desperate she is to escape from her situation and her life, penned into the suburbs because of her fear of the blitz.

More tomorrow…