Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton


Inspired by a post on Catherine Bray’s blog, I’m re-reading this novel (“A tale of darkest Earl’s Court”) which I first discovered in my mid-twenties and last opened about twelve years ago; in those twelve years I’ve struggled with alcoholism and mental illness rather like George Harvey Bone, the novel’s principal character, and indeed Patrick Hamilton himself; he died the year I was born (1962). It hasn’t all been bad – along the way I’ve had enormous fun, been married, and had two children. But there is now a sense that the party’s over.

So, the “me” reading Hangover Square today is very different from the twenty something music student who first read it in the 1980s. For one thing, I’m not about to try and live like these people, trying to make a name for myself in London, getting “blind” every single day (like I did then).

I wouldn’t recommend the film, starring George Sanders, except as a curiosity of British noir cinema; it’s a travesty of the novel, with none of the bleak humour, and Patrick Hamilton didn’t like it.

My copy has an introduction by J.B. Priestley, in which he says:

It is possible that this new generation of readers, who do not know their Patrick Hamilton, may at first be bewildered or rather bored by his very individual humour, depending as much of it does on emphasizing – by a free use of quotation marks and capital letters – the catch-phrases and banalities of an older and vanishing generation. But I feel sure that a great many younger readers will be caught and held by Patrick Hamilton’s intensely personal view of life, his enduring sense of homelessness, of the loneliness and solitude so many young men have known, his feeling for the innocence always menaced by stupidity and wickedness, the compassion behind his apparently sardonic detachment. The world that he secretly regarded with horror, in the dark outside the lighted saloon bars, is not better than it was when he was writing these novels, it is if anything – worse. So I feel there must be thousands of youngish readers who will not only appreciate his unique talent but will also welcome him as a friend and brother. And on my part I must add that, returning to these novels after many years, I find his stature has increased. He is no great major novelist, taking all society in his grasp, and he never pretended to be. But among the uniquely individual minor novelists of our age, he is a master.


The Slaves of Solitude is one of the best novels about the Second World War, argues David Lodge


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