Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl's Court (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 28 Jun 2001
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
London 1939, and in the grimy publands of Earls Court, George Harvey Bone is pursuing a helpless infatuation with Netta who is cool, contemptuous and hopelessly desirable to George. George is adrift in hell, until something goes click in his head and he realizes that he must kill her.
About the Author
Patrick Hamilton was one of the most gifted and admired writers of his generation. Born in Hassocks, Sussex, in 1904, he and his parents moved a short while later to Hove, where he spent his early years. He published his first novel, Craven House, in 1926 and within a few years had established a wide readership for himself. Despite personal setbacks and an increasing problem with drink, he was able to write some of his best work. His plays include the thrillers Rope (1929), on which Alfred Hitchcock's film of the same name was based, and Gas Light (1939), also successfully adapted for the screen (1939), and a historical drama, The Duke in Darkness (1943). Among his novels are The Midnight Bell (1929); The Siege of Pleasure (1932); The Plains of Cement (1934); a trilogy entitled Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky (1935); Hangover Square (1941); The Slaves of Solitude (1947); and The West Pier (1951), Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse (1953) and Unknown Assailant (1955), which together comprise The Gorse Trilogy.
J. B. Priestley described Patrick Hamilton as uniquely individual ... He is the novelist of innocence, appallingly vulnerable, and of malevolence, coming out of some mysterious darkness of evil.' Patrick Hamilton died in 1962.
125 customer reviews
Review this product
Read reviews that mention
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
Patrick Hamilton’s novel based in Earls Court and Brighton in 1939 is possibly the best anti-romantic novel ever written in English. First published in 1941 by Constable, it was reissued by Penguin in 1956 and became a Penguin Modern Classics book in 2001, sixty years after first publication. JB Priestley in his 1972 introduction finds Hamilton ‘above all the novelist of the homeless,’ which exactly describes the mood of the book. ‘He takes us into a kind of No-Man’s-Land of shabby hotels, dingy boarding-houses and all those saloon bars where the homeless can meet,’ says Priestley, and he does this through exploring the interior world of his unlikely hero George Harvey Bone.
Bone is the classic ‘muff’ as Thackeray would call him. He is large, awkward and slavishly devoted to a woman who despises him. His romantic advances to Netta are apologetic and self-disparaging. He knows he stands no chance of engaging the attentions of this beautiful creature, yet cannot save himself from persisting in his timid approaches. Netta’s interest in George is undisguisedly one of convenience. Bone (her appellation throughout) is able to fund her life of pleasure, but he can in no way advance her social or theatrical career; the very reverse in fact. Netta emerges as a heartless scheming tart, seen through by all her male escorts, including, strangely enough, the aspiring Bone himself.
So far, so banal, but George Bone knows this and Hamilton skillfully addresses this weakness by providing a shell into which his hero ‘snaps’ or ‘cracks’ at frequent intervals. When inside the shell George sees Netta as despicable, so much so that from the outset he plans her death and his escape from justice and retirement to the country - to the aptly named Maidenhead, where safe from police and the dreary round of pubs he can live in peace. A man of two worlds, he plans to triumph over Netta so that if he can’t ‘have’ her he will kill her - and indeed Peter, the ex-killer and jailbird to whom she allows favours. George Harvey Bone is a great planner, a self-tortured romancer, but not until the end of the book does he stop crying and become, as he puts it, ‘a real man.’
Hangover Square's protagonist is George Harvey Bone, a shambling, awkward, gentle giant of a man living in shabby Earl's Court on a small private income. Bone spends his days drifting from pub to pub with a group of drinkers that revolves around sometime actress Netta Longdon, with whom he is desperately and hopelessly in love. Fully aware of this, Netta is relentlessly cruel to George, openly taking every advantage of his placid nature and his generosity with his moderate funds while treating him without civility, let alone kindness. He is, to Netta and her bullying associates, 'the dumb butt of their unfriendly wit'. What Netta doesn't know, however, is that George suffers from some sort of schizoaffective disorder and experiences 'dead moods', strange periods of confusion during which his only clear thought and purpose is killing her.
If you think this sounds bleak, you'd be right - it absolutely is. Set in 1939 with war on the horizon, Hangover Square is a dark, bitter and deeply sad book, but it's also a brilliantly written and atmospheric one which I immediately loved. The characters drift through a grey, smoke-fogged world of Earl's Court pubs, boarding houses and bedsits that perfectly evoke pre-war London. George Harvey Bone himself is vividly memorable, frustratingly weak and self-destructive in his descent into alcoholism and slavish devotion to Netta, sinister during his dissociative episodes and yet somehow, I found myself rooting for him throughout. His delight when he reconnects with Johnnie, an affable, well-adjusted former friend from George's pre-Earl's Court days, is incredibly endearing. Whenever George briefly rediscovers a simple pleasure he used to enjoy, such as playing a round of golf or reading a novel, we catch a glimpse of a George pre-Earl's Court, a George pre-alcohol, a George pre-Netta, we realise what he could be if he could only find the strength to escape. Indeed, most people who meet lumbering, shy George away from Earl's Court do seem to like him - far more, in fact, than they like beautiful, confident Netta, of whom Johnnie gets the measure within moments.
Netta herself is an equally fascinating character, albeit one with few redeeming features: it's clear that she is an alcoholic, and I was able to feel some sadness for her in that respect, but she is also in every way the very antithesis of all things kind, fair and decent. In learning the novel's basic premise you could be forgiven for thinking that George is simply a bitter occupant of the 'friend zone', expecting a romantic relationship as a natural entitlement through no fault of Netta's own and resenting her as a result, but we soon learn that Netta is quite deliberately exploiting George in a way that is not only opportunistic and manipulative but deliberately sadistic. We see Netta at first only through the eyes of George, who hates and loves her in equal measure, and of course we wonder how reliable a picture he can paint - but when the omniscient narrator steps in to set us straight, we discover only that Netta is even worse than George has imagined.
Not only is Netta spoilt, lazy and spiteful, but also strongly attracted to fascism, bullying, violence and cruelty,and excited by her blackshirt friend Peter primarily because he has been to prison for violently assaulting a left-wing political opponent and for killing a pedestrian while drunk behind the wheel. Whereas George considers himself a liberal and is ashamed by the Munich Agreement, Netta is fascinated by Hitler and Mussolini and 'the uniforms, the guns, the breeches, the boots, the swastikas, the shirts. She was, probably, sexually stimulated by these things in the same way as she might have been sexually stimulated by a bull-fight.'
There is an ominous sense of inevitability to Hangover Square, a looming sense of something terrible about to happen. George's predicament of constantly desperately trying to appease Netta despite his perpetual horror at her appalling behaviour, whilst on another level being convinced that killing her can be the only solution to his problems, seems all too fitting a metaphor for Britain in 1939, with George's internal conflict mirroring the build-up to the devastation of the Second World War.
I feel positively ashamed that it took me so long to get round to reading Hangover Square, as it's a compelling, distinctive novel that gripped me from the very first sentence. I'll definitely be reading Patrick Hamilton's other work in the near future.