Attempting to convince someone of the attraction of this book by simply recounting the bare basics of the storyline would require Noel Coward's mastery of the English language. After all, the unappealing, unfulfilled lives of a barmaid, a waiter and a prostitute which centre around a grimy pub in 1930s London does not sound like a recipe for a gripping read does it? Indeed, if it were not for the BBC's adaptation of the book which they aired in 2005 (and available on DVD if you are interested), this book would not have impinged upon my consciousness at all, so hurrah for the BBC.
Even though this book is set forty years before I was born, I was surprised by its timeless nature and how I could still relate to the characters' experiences, feelings, hopes and fears, seven decades on. The reason for this is that Hamilton has conducted a precise exploration and dissection of human nature with regards to love, infatuation, insecurity, emotional repression and many other factors besides, which are still inherently the same, even though the material world around us is vastly altered from the era of "Twenty Thousand Streets".
On a superficial level, these three interconnecting stories of ruinous infatuation ("The Midnight Bell"), a descent into alcoholism and prostitution ("The Siege of Pleasure") and soul-destroying unrequited love ("The Plains of Cement") can be viewed as a classic way for the reader to enter a depressed state. But for me, it was life-affirming material; after all, hardly anyone's life is a constant bed of roses and Hamilton's recognition and unsentimental depiction of this is a reminder that you are not alone whenever you feel that life is dealing you a bad hand.
Whilst his other novels are very good, I feel that "Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky" is Hamilton's masterpiece and deserves a wider audience and recognition for what I regard as a 20th Century classic.