Shop now Shop now Shop now See more Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now DIYED Shop now Shop Fire Shop now Shop now

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback|Change
Price:£8.99+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 26 June 2005
These three novels are deeply moving. Most reviewers focus on The Midnight Bell which is the story of Bob and his involvement with a prostitute. It is convincingly written (apparently Hamilton wrote it while he was infatuated with a prostitute) and richly evocative. However, it is the The Plains of Cement that had me in tears at the end. Ella is twenty eight, in love with the oblivious Bob, and has a comfortably off middle aged admirer. Her struggles with her loneliness, her unsatisfying job, and the routine of her life, are so well written by Hamilton that my heart just aches for her.
0Comment| 50 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
If you have never heard of Patrick Hamilton, you are not alone. Described by the [London] Daily Telegraph as "a criminally neglected British author," Hamilton wrote nine novels from the 1920s through the early 1950s , along with the famous dramas of Rope and Gaslight. Almost Dickensian in his sympathetic attention to London's poor and struggling classes, Hamilton may finally be gaining the widespread public recognition he so richly deserves. A writer of enormous gifts, Hamilton's sense of time, place, and voice bring backstreet London in the 1930s alive with sense impressions. At the same time, he creates characters the reader instinctively cares about, even when they are being foolish. Three overlapping novellas filled with dark humor focus on three different characters associated with a pub called "The Midnight Bell," providing a close look at ordinary people living at the margins of society and doing the best they can in often fraught circumstances.

Bob, the bartender, is a young man for whom "Dreams were his life." Naively, he hopes to become a great writer, though he has not produced any work. Having inherited forty-seven pounds upon the death of his mother, he has scrimped from his small salary and tips so that he now has eighty pounds, a sum which symbolizes security for him. The arrival of Jenny Maples, a gorgeous, young prostitute whose pathetic story of needing money inspires his sense of protectiveness provides the turning point of this story. As she plays on his weaknesses, including his penchant for drink, he falls in love with her.

"The Siege of Pleasure" is Jenny's story, detailing her descent into prostitution. Though she has come to London to work--and finds a job as maid to a pair of hilarious old women and their deaf brother, which gives some much-needed comic relief--she soon becomes interested in being a "mannequin." The "victim" of a "glass of port" while out with friends, Jenny wakes up the next morning in a strange bed--her very gradual intoxication and equally gradual loss of control depicted with agonizing slowness.

"Plains of Cement" concentrates on the homely but loving Ella, the barmaid at The Midnight Bell, a woman in her late twenties who is a "little mother" to the late-at-night patrons. Hopelessly in love with Bob, who is not attracted to her, Ella soon finds herself being courted by Mr. Eccles, a much older man with a healthy bank account. Mr. Eccles, both peevish and demanding, soon attempts to take over her life, "superadding Religion to all the other mental thumbscrews and tortures," he has applied. As Ella tries find an escape, her plight elicits the greatest of empathy from the reader.

With its ironic title, suggesting that the lives of the denizens of The Midnight Bell are as far "under water" as Captain Nemo was in the Nautilus, this novel explores three desperate characters with sensitivity, care, and genuine emotion. The overarching problems of alcohol in two of the sections parallel the alcoholism of the author, and the development of the characters and the author's ability to involve the reader are enough to overcome the superficially trite plot lines. A rediscovered classic of the 1930s. Mary Whipple

Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl's Court (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Slaves of Solitude (New York Review Books Classics)
Craven House
0Comment| 20 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Patrick Hamilton's trilogy of bar and street life in London in the late twenties and early thirties, linked by their three central characters, was originally published as three works : The Midnight Bell, in 1929 when Hamilton was 25, The Siege of Pleasure 3 years later, and the final volume, The Plains of Cement in 1934. They were then republished the following year as this trilogy, Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky

The novels are drawn in part (or the first one is) from aspects of Hamilton's own rather destructive life. Although they could indeed be read singly, without reference to each other, and in any order, it is through reading them sequentially that the widest understanding happens.

The Midnight Bell is a West End pub. Two of the bar staff are Bob, who yearns to be a writer and is something of an auto-didact, and Ella, a plain, good natured young woman who is in love with Bob, although she has no hopes in that direction, as she is aware that his considerable physical charms, his wit, likeability and intelligence - not to mention his own intense susceptibility to pretty women, put him out of her reach.

Bob has a growing problem with alcohol, but at the beginning of the novel it is no more than heavy drinking, and there is every likelihood, in his mind, that he will fulfil his literary ambitions, and make something of himself. Ella, the perfect kindly barmaid does not drink, and seems the least damaged of the three central characters. The other protagonist is Jenny, a ravishingly pretty young prostitute, aged 18, whose entrance one evening into The Midnight Bell will be cataclysmic for Bob

The Midnight Bell is Bob's story, a decline and fall, laid absolutely low by love. As Bob himself is a witty man, this book ripples with Hamilton's sparkling word play and mordant observations. In fact, for my tastes, the self-deprecating humour, as an antidote to the darkening story, was almost a little overdone. In Hamilton's later books - most specifically in The Slaves of Solitude, his brilliant and sly humour is much less overt, and instead sparkles darkly and judiciously, rather than `and here's another funny line'

The much, much, bleaker The Siege of Pleasure is Jenny's Story. Picking up at the end of the Midnight Bell, when Jenny's destruction of Bob is almost complete, Hamilton almost immediately back tracks to show how Jenny, who is not consciously wicked, became a woman of the streets. Unlike the destructive, vicious and racketty Netta of his other highly acclaimed novel, Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl's Court (Penguin Modern Classics), another stunningly beautiful, completely amoral woman who uses her beauty to part men from their money, Jenny, though absolutely self-obsessed, has a kind of charm and a desire to please. Jenny's dark destruction is also due to alcoholism. The Siege of Pleasure also seethes with Hamilton's socialist, egalitarian politics - Jenny is a well-drawn individual woman, but she is also a representative of the unfairness of the class system. The best she can hope for is a life in service, and, at the start of the book, becoming the live-in housekeeper and cook to a trio of elderly siblings, represents a big step up on her own humbler, violent beginnings. Her fall is rapid and its start happens in a single evening.

But, for me, the stand-out is Ella's story, in The Plains Of Cement - London and the area between Oxford Street and the Euston Road, form the bulk of it, though the glamour of theatre land, and the poverty of Pimlico, are also drawn. Ella is a good young woman, kindly, and with a kind of commonplace store of cliché driven phrases, which however come with a homespun innocence from her. She is another with few prospects, and, her only escape could come through marriage, except that she accepts her plainness is unlikely to make this likely. One of the denizens of the bar is a truly irritating, desperately lonely on the verge of elderly bachelor, Ernest Eccles. Eccles is screamingly annoying, the kind of person whose conversation is full of meaningful innuendo which is at the same time WITHOUT meaning. The developing courtship (if indeed that is what it is) is wonderfully handled, and Ella, appreciating Eccles' good qualities, must juggle moral choices - she has a dearly loved mother, and a hated, bad-tempered stepfather - also working in the bar industry, fallen from almost being a `self-made man' to a bottle and glass washer. Ella gives half her earnings to her mother; the stepfather is mean as well as an emotional bully.

This again is a bleak book, but it is the writer's wonderful humour, light touch, fine ear for dialogue, and the internal running commentary of Ella's thoughts whilst her `out in the world' external doings and sayings are happening, that makes his work such a delight to read.

The excruciating progression of Eccles' courtship of Ella, and her frustration, embarrassment and changing feelings towards her elderly admirer, moment to moment, are wonderfully drawn.

The detailed, authentically delineated Ella comes from the same kind of world as Enid Roach in Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude - and Ernest Eccles, though not consciously bullying, in the manner of the obnoxious Mr Thwaites in that book, is equally a boor, insensitive, solipsistic and insufferable in his pomposity. Hamilton writes from inside his central female characters utterly believably.

The autobiographical basis for the first novel in the trilogy came from Hamilton's own love affair with a prostitute, and his own alcoholism. His father, too, was an alcoholic, an unsuccessful writer, and made an early, disastrous marriage to a prostitute. Out of his own dreadfully destructive nature and nurture Patrick Hamilton created finely crafted literature. Alcohol, and its potential for destruction, as well as its ability to create a rose-tinted world, runs through all three books, as does the various ways in which capital exploits labour

In the end, despite the humour, the storyline, the well drawn characters, and the marvellous journey of 3 novels sequentially, which can be enjoyed as solo outings, it is Hamilton's depth and humanity which grabs me, every time. His touch may be light, and have at times an almost Restoration style comedy of manners going on (the trajectory of the courtship between Eccles and Ella) - but light, in Hamilton's touch, is never limited to the superficial, and he has an enviable ability to whisk aside the surface, and leave the reader heart-clutchingly aching as they engage with, not only his central characters, but ourselves. He is some kind of witness to the lives all those who are not the explorers who discover continents, the astronauts who step on other planets, the rulers of nations, but those who live inside the ordinary dwellings, the denizens of those Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky
44 comments| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 30 June 2000
These stories are every bit as good as Hangover Square and Slaves of Solitude; Hamilton's regrettable overuse of capital letters for comic effect (she asked if he would Like to Go Outside etc)is their only fault. Hamilton' skill in putting his finger on the most complex feelings and emotions can be compared to Proust. Buy this book today, believe me you won't be disappointed!Thanks to Mr Holroyd for introducing Hamilton to a new generation of readers.
11 comment| 20 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 October 2009
After reading Hangover Square, I thought that it must surely be his greatest novel. So I waited a while before reading another, expecting that I would enjoy it but that it would not be quite as good. But this tale of the lives of three essentially lonely Londoner's connected by the pub they all meet at, is an even more towering achievement. Hamilton's books speak of ordinary people's lives in grimy circumstances: of trasy loves and infatuations, lonely nights spent between rough sheets in a bustling city. He has a way of writing about emotions that consistently thouch something beautiful yet saddeningly dowdy. The way he sums up tawdry emotional situations in a somewhat whimsical yet tragic way, seems so effortless and easy, the way all true masters of crafts seem able to do. I love this trilogy. And I don't believe anyone who says it's too stuck in it's own time: infatuation, love, loneliness, the manipulation of human emotional needs. It speaks sadly of the human condition, which, as far as I'm aware, is pretty much the same as it ever was.

Along with Henry Green, Hamilton is one of the century's most shamefully neglected British novelists. Help change that!
0Comment| 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 26 July 2007
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.
0Comment| 12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 November 2013
The Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy is an amazing achievement, originally published as three separate books: The Midnight Bell (1929), The Siege of Pleasure (1932) and The Plains of Cement (1934).

In 1935, these books were first collected in one volume as Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky.

The Midnight Bell (1929)

Patrick Hamilton's protagonist Bob, the waiter at a Euston pub called The Midnight Bell, has saved £80 (worth several thousands of pounds in today's money) in the bank through prudence and maximising his tips. Following a chance encounter with Jenny, a prostitute, and with whom he becomes obsessed, and believing he can change her, he becomes ever more reckless and desperate. Towards the end, Bob, realising the folly of his misadventure, concludes "that it had all come from him, and only the hysteria and obsession of his pursuit had given a weak semblance of reciprocation". Basically he'd been played.

As with all the best books by Patrick Hamilton, in addition to a riveting drama, The Midnight Bell also provides a powerfully evocation of London - 1920s London in this instance. The character of Euston, the West End, Soho, and Hampstead, still recognisable to the modern Londoner are beautifully captured, especially the various pubs and cafes which feature so heavily in the story.

The other aspect that rings true so authentically is the dialogue: whether this be the conversations between the regulars at The Midnight Bell, or the somewhat stilted and love lorn conversations between Bob and Jenny, or most powerfully a dreadful scene when Bob visits Jenny in the room she shares with two other prostitutes. The true horror of his situation dawns on Bob, who remains powerless to escape. Frequently these experiences are accompanied by boozing, and then appalling hangovers and self-loathing: clearly something about which Patrick Hamilton had already gained a thorough knowledge.

The Siege of Pleasure (1932)

The Siege of Pleasure is essentially a prequel to The Midnight Bell and the story describes Jenny's drift into prostitution.

In common with Bob, Jenny is the architect of her own downfall. Patrick Hamilton again allows his characters moments of reflection and self-insight during which there are ample opportunities to escape their downward trajectory. It's a clever technique that had me hoping first Bob, and then Jenny, might escape. Like The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure is superb at bringing the era to life via numerous little details. In this novel, Patrick Hamilton wonderfully describes the household where Jenny gets a job as a live in maid and housekeeper. The two older sisters, Bella and Marion, who employ her, are fabulous creations.

One of the novel's longest scenes takes place over a night out in a pub in Hammersmith. Needless to say, Patrick Hamilton nails both the pub's atmosphere, and the way the evening evolves as two women and two men, first meet and get to know each other as inebriation takes hold and inhibitions melt away. Jenny's descent into drunkenness is one of the best descriptions of getting drunk I have ever read.

Patrick Hamilton also works in an incident of drunk driving - this following his own horrific accident at the hands of a drunk driver. In 1932, whilst walking with his sister and wife in London, Patrick Hamilton was struck by a drunk driver and dragged through the street. His injuries were devastating. After a three-month hospital stay, multiple surgeries (the accident ripped off his nose and left one arm mangled), and a period of convalescence, Hamilton suffered physical and emotional scars that would continue with him for the rest of his life. Some claim this contributed to his alcoholism. It certainly badly affected his self-esteem and he became very self conscious about the visible scars and loss of mobility. (His second play, To The Public Danger, commissioned by the BBC as part of a road safety campaign, was also an account of the carnage caused by drink driving).

The Plains of Cement (1934)

As with the other two books, The Plains of Cement works as a stand alone story, however the reading experience is even richer, for those that read the trilogy in sequence.

When writing this book, Patrick Hamilton saw himself as a Marxist, and, in common with the previous books, part of the book deals with the limited options for someone with no capital. Ella, in addition to herself, has to support her Mother, and Step Father, from her meagre earnings at The Midnight Bell. She also acknowledges that she is a plain looking woman.

Unexpectedly, she is courted by one her customers, Mr Eccles, an older man. Mr Eccles is at pains to point out he has Something Put By, and for Ella's benefit He's Letting Her Know (Patrick Hamilton again employing his customary "Komic Kapitals" to emphasise key phrases, and/or cliches, homilies etc).

Mr Eccles is another of Patrick Hamilton's monstrous males (which start with Mr Spicer in Craven House (1926), continue with Mr Eccles, and which reach its apogee with Mr Thwaites in The Slaves of Solitude (1947) (although perhaps Ralph Gorse tops them all in The West Pier (1952); and Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse (1953)).

I digress, Mr Thwaites at first appears absurd, but quickly becomes more sinister, using his creepy and evasive conversational style, along with this financial independence to trap and coerce poor old Ella. He is lecherous and exploitative. However, Ella is not the naive fool he assumes, and is able to see through him. Some of the book's most appalling scenes are a result of Ella's internal thoughts on Mr Eccles' absurd conversation, conduct and attitudes.

Anyone looking for a happy conclusion, to the trilogy, should look elsewhere. The final story continues the tragic arc of the previous books, and perhaps more distressingly - and unlike Bob and Jenny - Ella is not the architect of her own situation, she's a victim of circumstance.

Ella is one of the most sympathetic characters ever created by Patrick Hamilton and this makes her tale even more affecting. This story confronts the loneliness and sorrow of existence and concludes that all we have is our humour and humanity to confront and counteract this cold truth.


Whilst Hangover Square may be Patrick Hamilton's best-known London novel I think that Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy (in particular The Midnight Bell) is a key book in understanding his world view and the way he used his own life to inform his fiction.

The Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy is a masterpiece. Each story works well on its own terms, however when combined it creates one of the ultimate London novels. The twilight world of ordinary Londoners, trying to get by, yet all too easily seduced or distracted by the capital's temptations before coming crashing back down to earth. Beautifully written, it unerringly captures the world of the London pub, and the desperate lives of many ordinary people in the 1920s and 1930s, from a writer who was familiar with this world and sufficiently skilful to capture its every nuance.

Brilliant - but very, very bleak. 5/5
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This modern classic tells the story of three characters, the waiter, the prostitute and the barmaid and is centred on a pub in the Euston Road, 'The Midnight Bell', in London in the 1930s. Originally published as three separate books, this trilogy was brought together and published under the current title 'Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky'. This is a tale of loneliness, longing and self absorption. It contains many biographical details from Patrick Hamilton's life and family and many interesting period details of a dull foggy London between the wars. Hamilton has a brilliant fluid style and it is clear how he became a successful writer for the theatre and film when the reader races through sections of wonderfully written and lively dialogue. The first book in the trilogy, 'The Midnight Bell' was published when Hamilton was only twenty four and whilst using excellent descriptive prose has a certain remorselessness that can become quite tedious. It is for this reason that I have suggested a four star rating rather than five which us entirely appropriate for the second and third parts of the book. I urge any reader who finds themselves flagging on the first book not to give up but skim and then savour the brilliance of the later two sections.
0Comment| 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 8 February 2006
I was expecting a dour difficult to get through depiction of life in the 20's and 30's but have been delighted by this excellent fast paced book. Whilst the lives of the participants are often grim hamilton gives them such life and their actions all ring true.
Highly reccomended!
0Comment| 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 January 2010
Reread this again recently. Hamilton's novel - actually a collection of linked novellas - has finally been getting some of the attention it so richly deserves these last few years. Most of his books come with introductions by people like Holroyd or JB Priestly nervously pointing out that he was "a genuine minor talent", or damning him with other faint praise. Critics never seem to have known quite what to do with Hamilton, and he's never been spoken of in the same context as, say, Greene, which is wrong. His evocations of the dowdy, gas-lit world of London's poor and down-at-heel are extraordinary. I actually think he's a much better writer - I don't believe Greene when he's writing about the working class, but I do believe Hamilton. Hamilton is also much, much funnier - even when, as in this wonderful, unforgettable book - he's breaking your heart.
22 comments| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Need customer service? Click here