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on 1 August 2008
I loved this novel which shows boarding house life 1910-1920s and a period of generational transition with the world of Edwardian gentlefolk giving way to the bright young things of the 1920s. It stands out amongst Hamilton's work for its optimism and charm. Although there are glimpses of a darker world behind the suburban streets in which the boarding house, Craven House, is situated, Hamilton here steers away from a bleak and despairing portrayal of London that some of his later works show. The characters who live in his boarding house are vibrantly drawn and, although the romantic storyline gains some prominence as the novel progresses, it is quite clear at the end that it is the boarding house itself and a vanishing way of life that has been the true protagonist.
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on 13 February 2009
Craven House by Patrick Hamilton is a truly engaging read. Hamilton's style and descriptions might remind readers of some of the masterpieces of Victorian fiction, those books which you can become so immersed in that you feel as though you are a part of their worlds. This novel is an intricate tapestry of intermingled lives, all centring on the ever-changing, yet paradoxically ever-constant boarding house in the work's name. The boarding house, in a sense, is the main character, as it observes the many changes in the lives of those who stay in it. Craven House sees youth, death, burgeoning friendships, developing love, new arrivals, the departure of old friends, friendly squabbles, and family quarrels. When a reader picks up Craven House, he or she is thrust into times of the past when bobbed hair is one of those "modern airs". The reader experiences the anguish of Elsie's unrequited love, the fervor of Master Wildman when pursuing prospects of love and playwriting, and the audacity of Audrey speaking back to her employer. Once involved in this depiction, which gradually builds, crescendo-like, to a tense climax, readers may not want to leave. At the very least, you'll want to read it again.
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VINE VOICEon 3 July 2015
Patrick Hamilton's later books like Hangover Square and 20 Thousand Streets Under The Sky are brilliant, but this is a pretty poor early effort.
It displays all the flaws of a writer's early work. Hamilton is obviously experimenting with form, but this has unfortunate consequences. Yes, he never got rid of his irritating habit of capping up certain words Because They're Important, but here the mix of tenses, of viewpoints, of styles, is infuriating. The first half of the book especially is like chewing through particularly mean toffee. The dialogue also lacks the freshness and economy of his later work, with little more than repetition of some words to make a point.
Other things irk, like the pointless use of a fictional district of London when a real one would have been better. Much of the action just isn't that interesting, and there are so many characters we find it difficult to identify with many of them. Most successful is an early section where Mr Spicer goes on a boozy trip into London, and the closing stages in which we are willing Master Wildman to do the right thing in the field of love.
But this isn't a great book, and it's especially disappointing after reading the author's later classics.
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on 7 April 2009
Craven House is one of the more interesting books I've read in the past year or so. Don't let the seemingly bland context of the story fool you and deprive you of this absurdly funny and engaging adventure into the lives of the early-1900s British elite. When I first picked up the book I was confused at how bland it seemed it was going to be, but Hamilton takes the content with a subtlety of humour that I've never seen before. You can tell that he's mocking the prim, proper, and agonizingly pretentious nature of this class of people. Etiquette and awkward conversation become comic social commentary as the characters make complete and utter fools of themselves as they desperately try to live up to their ideas of society's expectations. Underlying this all is a unbelievably charming love story that you desperately want to come into fruition and suffer with the two involved when problems arise.
Hamilton's writing style is something to be admired in of itself. It is elegant and ornate, but twisted into this is a second form, irregularly structured with unique vocabulary and syntax that contrasts with the more classical structure to add to the air of awkward comedy that pervades the entirety of the book. His characters pop out as strikingly real as he develops for each a distinct way of speaking and thinking. Like the book itself, the characters are one way on the outside; uniform, mild-mannered, and perfect gentlemen/women, but on the inside they each have a uniqueness that comes out to play from time to time. Toward the end of the novel, these sorts of Jungian Shadows start breaking through the walls of their cages of society imposed suppression, and the reader gets to have a long series of chuckles at the expense of their collective psychological degeneration.
Above all, this book is an engaging read if you like the subtle humour of the author and you can appreciate the mastery with which he creates painfully awkward situations that you can't help but cringe at whilst you're laughing at the absurdity of the character's daily lives. It's a brilliant book, even to a sci-fi wonk like myself. Give it a read!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 December 2015
Alongside “The Slaves of Solitude”, this is my favourite of Patrick Hamilton’s novels. It is one of his earliest books and perhaps lacks some of the tightness of structure of the later works. However its style, now unfashionably wordy, lends itself wonderfully to the evocation of the gentle and genteel world of the middle classes and their servants in the periods before and after WW1. Affection and satire work beautifully together to arouse genuine feeling for the sadly lonely characters who people Miss Hatt’s boarding house. Eccentric, they often are but never freaks.

At first the break in the narrative from the outbreak of war to some years afterwards, seems too abrupt. The growth of the obnoxious Master Wildman into the romantically inclined, sensitive and thoughtful figure of the young would-be dramatist takes a little adjusting to, but the characters do develop, if only in that their frustrations in several cases issue in the wonderfully comic and yet painful climax. It would be easy to dismiss the self-absorption, the pettiness, the minor cruelties, but Hamilton makes us find attractive touches of warmth and humanity in all but the loathsome bully that Mrs Nixon remains, even after she meets her match. Behind the fascinating local action is the wider sense of a society under the pressure of change, but for me and I suspect for many other readers, the interrelationships, conducted through an acute ear for dialogue and social nuance, are what endears the book to us. The splendidly ambivalent final pages are genuinely poignant, yet still warmly humorous. A book to cherish and to
return to.

Nigel Jones’ introduction is best read after the novel, as indeed are most introductions. For those interested his biography of Patrick Hamilton is a fascinating account of a remarkable man. This, too,(see review) I strongly recommend.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 March 2013
This book is a joy. Yes, Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl's Court (Penguin Modern Classics) and The Slaves of Solitude are Patrick Hamilton's masterpieces however this book is every bit as enjoyable. Playful, jaunty, and very sentimental, it is interesting to read Hamilton in a more positive mood - before the cynicism and darkness really took hold.

Craven House was the first major novel by Patrick Hamilton and was published in 1926, and captures that moment when, following World War 1, the certainties of the Edwardian way of life eroded until English society was changed for ever. Hamilton's own family experienced their own slow, inexorable slide down the social scale throughout Patrick Hamilton's childhood.

The Craven House of the title is a boarding house in west London, similar to the one Hamilton's own family lived in at Chiswick. The setting allows Hamilton to explore the shifting, uncertain world of the English boarding house. The characters that populate this house are lovingly chronicled with horrified fascination. On the surface each is well mannered and genteel. Scratch the surface and there is much more going on. As with other books by this wonderful writer, his acute powers of observation enrich all the characters with little phrases and idiosyncrasies that are clearly drawn from real life and so authentically evoke a sense of time and place, and are all described in Hamilton's gloriously atmospheric prose.

There is barely disguised tension between the occupants of Craven House, in addition to an intergenerational conflict being slowly fought between the young people and their elders. Like a slow pressure cooker, the tale slowly and inexorably builds to a memorable conclusion over the fifteen years that the story takes place (1911-1926). Patrick Hamilton was a master and this book, whilst not regarded as one of his more significant works, is funny, absurd, poignant, and downright wonderful.
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on 19 June 2013
This is one of Hamilton's earliest works and is, arguably, not in quite the same league as his later masterpieces but is nonetheless a thoroughly rewarding read. I am a fan and, of course, I loved it but I think that anyone who appreciates good writing and acute social observation will too.
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on 9 October 2013
I like this type of prose. Patrick was a brilliant writer, pity he had such a destructive lifestyle, he died too early
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