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Described by the [London] Daily Telegraph as "a criminally neglected British author," Patrick Hamilton wrote nine novels from the 1920s through the early 1950s, along with the famous dramas of Rope and Gaslight, and though he earned the admiration of a host of famous authors, from Graham Greene and Doris Lessing to Nick Hornby, he never achieved the popular success he deserved, either in his own time or throughout the twentieth century. In this decade, however, virtually all his novels have been reprinted in both Europe and in the US, and he is finally beginning to be recognized for his astute observations about his times and for his insights into the minds of his characters.

Indicating in the subtitle that this is "A story of darkest Earl's Court," Hangover Square is set in what was then a seamy, low-rent district of London, a place in which those who were down on their luck, out of work, or homeless could manage to scrounge through life. Bars and cheap entertainment provided evening activities for people who often did not get up before noon. George Harvey Bone, the main character here, is out of work. Like the other unemployed and under-employed people he associates with, he lives on the fringes of the entertainment business-part-time actors and actresses, managers, and movie makers who party long and hard, fueled by massive quantities of alcohol.

George's drinking might have triggered his earliest his "blackouts," but here they have become more frequent and more debilitating--psychotic episodes of schizophrenia which end with the demand that he kill Netta Longdon to save himself. Netta is a failed actress--a beautiful, spoiled, and manipulative woman who ignores George except when she wants money, a woman who sleeps around with his friends (though not with him), and uses him. He is so desperate for her attentions, however, that he allows himself to be degraded, always hoping that she will see him for the person he really is. As he is driven closer to the edge and as his "dead moods" get closer together, the suspense grows. "Getting killed would serve her jolly well right," he rationalizes.

The narrative line, which takes place inside George's head, is strong and emotionally affecting, and though many contemporary readers will be frustrated at George's passivity in the face of Netta's abuse, few will fail to empathize. Based in part on his own life, the novel is an intense psychological drama written by a man who became an alcoholic at a young age, after being disfigured in an accident. Frequently developing passionate but unrequited attachments, he wrote about these women in his novels. Famed actress Geraldine Fitzgerald was recognized as the model for Netta Longdon, something her obituary confirms. Mary Whipple

Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky: A London Trilogy (New York Review Books Classics)
The Slaves of Solitude (New York Review Books Classics)
The Gorse Trilogy: "The West Pier", "Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse", "Unknown Assailant": "The West Pier", "Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse", "Unknown Assailant"
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on 25 May 2011
'Give me a really good read' I said to to an academic friend of mine who teaches English literature over, appropriately, a post-Christmas drink. 'Hmmm' he pondered and then smiled knowingly, 'try Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. I reckon you'll like that one'. Good enough for me I thought and two days later, there it was, sitting on my doormat, courtesy of our old friends at Amazon (crikey they've done well out of me over the years).

And what a read it is. Hamilton pulls you into the sad, seedy, drink-sodden (but irresistible) world of pre-war London. We are in the mind of schizophrenic George Harvey Bone, a loveable loser caught in the grips of a mean and heartless group of boozy 'friends', who take his money and goodwill without the slightest shred of guilt or remorse.

Despite knowing he's being taken for a ride ('I've been such a fool' Bone tragically confides to his only real mate), he remains in the pernicious orbit of this cruel and heartless mob, unable to pull himself away. Why? Because of his doomed, and, needless to say, unreciprocated love for the cold and manipulative femme fatale at the centre of the Black Hart public house drinkers, Netta.

The mark of Hamilton's work is one yearns for the gentle, ever so lonely Bone to escape his torment; to be rid of these callus parasites forever - 'go to Maidenhead, go to Maidenhead, George!', I heard myself shouting at the page, raising a few worried looks from passengers on the Bakerloo Line during my dull Monday morning commute (read the book - the Maidenhead reference will become clear).

But of course poor Bone can't escape and therein lies the tragic destiny of this wonderful, compelling and brilliantly written story.

Do yourself a favour - buy Hangover Square right now, tell the kids to watch some episodes of Scooby-Doo on DVD ('old' Scooby-Doo of course, not the vastly inferior 'new' Scooby), settle down in your favourite armchair and read the best book you're going to read this year.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 December 2014
Patrick Hamilton is a not-quite-forgotten, admired author, who specialised in getting inside the heads of those who were disaffected, on-the-margins, or even, dangerously psychopathic - he was a stage and film writer, as well as author, and responsible for the highly charged, tightly wound, thrillers of sinister psychopathology, Gaslight, and Rope

Hangover Square was one of his most iconic novels. Set primarily in London on the very edge of, and then just at the start of, the Second World War, this follows the fortunes (pretty well unstoppably downwards) of George Harvey Bone, a not quite impoverished, weak willed man with a severe drinking problem, some undiagnosed dissociative mental health problems, and a dangerous 2 year infatuation with a hard, vicious untalented actress.

Bone is an unlikely subject to capture a reader's compassionate interest, yet he does, because despite the fact that he is someone of a definite wasted life, a bit of a bumbling, naïve and pathetic character, he is nevertheless like a lost and vulnerable puppy, possessed of great sweetness of temperament, despite his irritating flaccidity of purpose

Netta, the object of his adoration, is a beautiful and completely amoral, woman, without any charm, wit, intelligence, talent or likeability. Her one asset is her extraordinary beauty, which is clearly barely even skin-deep. Whereas Bone is a marshmallow, ineffectual, likeable drunk, Netta, and her closest crony, louche, spiteful Peter, are hard, aggressive, deeply unpleasant drunks.

The trajectory of the story is George Bone's worsening mental health problems, and the hopeless infatuation with Netta, who is completely uninterested in George, in any way, except as someone to sponge money from, and exploit.

This should be an unbearably depressing book, but instead, there is a kind of gentle humour in George, a puppyish enthusiasm and a potential for excitement and joy which carries the reader along, despite the awareness of the grim background of war on the horizon, the predictable and nasty leanings towards Fascist sympathies espoused by Netta and Peter, and George's inability to free himself from the nest of vipers he can, in some ways, clearly see.

Perhaps Hamilton's ability to make us feel George from the inside, and care about him, too, comes in part from what must have been a certain self-identification in the writer, as Hamilton himself had a disastrous relationship with alcohol, child of an alcoholic father, he died in 1962 of liver cirrhosis. He was a writer who definitely identified with the underdog, the marginalised, and the powerless in society.

J.B. Priestley in his introduction to the the Penguin Classics edition of Hangover Square, describes Hamilton as one of the best `minor novelists' writing in the interwar and beyond years. And lest that seems like damning with faint praise, it is I think fair, admiring praise.

However.........I should caution anyone who gets this edition, with the Priestley introduction to AVOID reading that introduction if you have never read Hangover Square, as foolishly, in the closing paragraph of his otherwise pertinent and interesting introduction, he reveals one of the major spoilers.
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on 12 March 2000
I found this book through the recommendation of another reader on and was delighted to do so. This is simply brilliant. No other book I have read has captured the mood of a single moment in history quite so well. Like Ullyses in its minute observations and with the momentum of a Graham Greene this is a classic which deserves more fame. It is one of my top ten ever. (Don't mistake it for a case history of schizophrenia, though, as the introductory notes suggest. By our contemporary definitions he would have a recurrent dissociative state.) This is the only thing I could find wrong with this book. It is as close to perfect as one could ever want. Sensational.
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Hamilton's characterisation and sense of diction mean that this a novel as re-readable as any by an English author in the twentieth century. The pathetic figure of George Harvey Bone lurches through a perfectly described Dreary Twenties London trying to maintain his sanity and rid himself of his infatuation with a petty and cold actress. The author's sense of tragedy on the small scale echos through all of his better work: this novel, and also The Slaves of Solitude and Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky.
His humour, his understanding of frustrated sexuality, his cruelty (the author is God in any novel), and his ability to humiliate pathetic but sympathetic characters puts him up there with Nobakov - just a pity Hamilton couldn't have cleaned up his act and kept writing as well as this. However, his work being of a vaguely (very vaguely) autobiographical nature, he had to drink himself to death after writing a number of poor quality later works. This, though, is an absolute gem of a novel.
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on 22 September 2000
I fell in love with the title first. I found it in a second hand shop. I've had to buy three more copies since as they've got ruined through late night reading.
Hamilton captures speech and the cruelty of life with an accuracy rarely seen in novels of this time. It is so very English, the weather is drab yet you always think there might be rainbows in the puddles. Despite this it reminds me of a lot of US novels, particularly 'Ask the Dust' by Fante and 'The Lost Weekend' by Jackson.
It's beautiful, despairing and at times excrutiating . A classic that has fallen down the cracks in the corridor of history, this is the perfect book for when the rain's hammering at your window and you realise it's six months until summer. Gin soaked genius
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on 23 September 2013
I bought my first Patrick Hamilton book on the basis of reviews by others, and each new book is a delight. He has a rare ability in his descriptive writing, both in conveying the most profound innermost emotions, and taking you into a world where you can almost smell the stale beer, cheap perfume and the smoke hanging on London streets on a wet November evening. These are not fast-paced, all-action novels: they will appeal to readers who want to immerse themselves deeply in a character and a lifestyle. Mesmerisingly good.
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on 24 March 1999
An excellent book, and a great example of the English novel, should be on everyone's reading list. JB Priestly writes the introduction, and if you've ever enjoyed the Go-Betweens then its a safe bet that you will also love this much harsher and crueller book. It's an expose of unrequited love and mental cruelty, set against a backdrop of alcohol and the ever-nearing prospect of World War II.
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on 23 July 2004
Hamilton's masterpiece? I love all Hamilton's novels (even the weaker ones, but this one's among his best.
Hamilton's a genius, far more fun than E Waugh (both born in 1904). When you can re-read a Hamilton novel it's still funny: Martin Amis books are impossible to read twice, I feel.
No one writes a better pub scene'n Hamilton, not even the great Bruce Robinson.
It's a shame he isn't taught in the schools. "Please, Miss - can we read THE WEST PIER?" ...
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on 9 May 2013
I only heard about this by reading something about Sophie Eliis Bexter who recommended it. It is a great read, set in Earls Court - so if you live near it you will be fascinated by how different the area was then contrasted with how it is now. Such a fun enjoyable read and definitely recommended - and thankyou Sophie!
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