Monday, 4 October 2010

HANGOVER SQUARE by Patrick Hamilton

This is a fantastic little book. It's subtitled 'A story of darkest Earl's Court,' and is very much about the misery and anonymity of the big city. It's certainly not a book to read when you are feeling sick of London, as I am.

Sample: At one point, our protagonist is trying to warm up on a cold day in front of a miserable gas fire. Comments the author, in probably my favourite line of the entire book: “To those whom God has forsaken, is given a gas-fire in Earl's Court” You said it, baby.

HANGOVER SQUARE tells the story of one Harvey Bone, who is a sweet and slightly simple young man living in Earl's Court. The year is very specifically 1939, and the war hangs over the entire book. Bone is very lonely, and conceives an obsessive love for one Netta Langdon. She is thoroughly nasty to him, but he hangs onto the edge of her hard drinking social group. Occasionally, Bone hears what is described as a click in his head, and suddenly the world becomes a bit silent and vacant, and he moves as if in a dream. During these periods, he plans to kill Netta. When his head clicks back, he cannot remember these 'dead' periods at all. Bone is a thoroughly symmpathetic character, and the book reels you in by continually keeping you in hope that he will come right. He keeps trying to give up drinking, and planning to move out of the city to the countryside, both of which, it is suggested, might yet save him. Eventually, in a particularly bad period, he does kill Netta, and on her friends, and then covers the apartment in lengths of thread, so the crime scene will not be touched by the police. Shortly afterwards, he kills himself. He had been looking after a stray cat, and his suicide note is mostly about making sure the cat is looked after. It is sad.

Hamilton is a bit naughty, as he really makes you hate Netta. I have to admit its a tiny bit mysoginist. Apparently 'her thoughts resembled those of a fish – something seen floating in a tank, brooding, self-absorbed, frigid . . . she had been born, apparently, without any natural predilection towards thought or action . . .' You get the picture. You seriously totally don't care when she gets drowned in her bath.

JB Priestly in the introduction makes the excellent point that Hamilton is one of the first writers to really deal with the way one can be homeless in a big city – homeless in the sense of anonymous, and without any kind of community – just floating. Let me just quote you one other little bit! Speaking of a young man: “For he was alone in London for the fist time, and at an age when the external world generally bears a totally differnet aspect from the one it bears to its more battered and jaundiced inhabitants – at an age, indeed, where even the scenery of SW7 might be associated with the beginning of life rather than the end of all hope, and its streets and people charged with a remarkable mystery and romance of their own.”



  1. hmmm. If you are sick of London....

  2. Oh that is so weird! Someone just said that to me yesterday, and it really made me think. Not very good thoughts either . . .

  3. OK, I've *REALLY* got to read this one now!

    Not sure I agree that he's the first to write about being anonymous in a big city. Surely Jean Rhys did that in the 1930s? "Voyage in the Dark" is all about a young girl living in London feeling hopeless lost and depressed about her circumstances... It's an excellent book, if slightly melancholy and depressing.

  4. I've never even heard of VOYAGE IN THE DARK - I've had a little google now though, and I shall totally put it on my list! I think people from hot countries seem to suffer more than others when London is not going well. As an old Zimbabwean friend of mine said: that city will eat you up.



I started reading this book in the glorious pre-pandemic days of one week ago when COVID was some Chinese problem.   It begins as a medi...