Saturday, June 27, 2009

book review - The Slaves of Solitude - Patrick Hamilton

The moment I put this book down I realised that it might just have described one of those scenes that inspires you to change your life.

Patrick Hamilton is expert at taking a small world with a select cast of characters and putting it under the microscope. There every detail is magnified and what might seem trivial to outsiders or in the world at large becomes monumentally important to those in the group.

Whereas it was a group of drinking friends in Hangover Square here with Slaves of Solitude it is a boarding house. A few years have passed since the events of Hangover with the country at war and the main character, Miss Roach, living in the suburban outskirts of the capital in a boarding house.

The boarding house is almost exclusively inhabited by old people. But once an American soldier and a young German woman Miss Kulgeman are added to the mix it becomes explosive. Before those two additional characters arrive the battle is between Roach and the old gentleman Thwaites. They verbally joust over the dining room table night after night.

But in her effort to be friendly and find an ally Roach invites the German girl into the boarding house just at a moment when her relationship with the lieutenant Pike is stoking her fantasies of escaping the drudgery of her life. But that starts to fall apart and the German girl highlights the stuffiness of Roach and manages to spoil that relationship.

But things start to become unbearable and Hamilton manages to crank up the rivalry and the bitterness of the women with the added vitriol of Thwaites. It all looks as if it is going wrong for Roach and she is not only going to be eclipsed by Kulgeman but destroyed by her. But the German over reaches herself and as the lieutenant pours out the drinks and pushes Thwaites over the edge the boarding house becomes off limits for Kulgeman.

But Roach has come into some money and as she heads for Claridges and London suddenly all those moments of bitterness and rivalry, fighting over the comb etc. That is the moment that anyone stuck in a dead end job or a relationship they cannot stand can dream of. That is what it must feel like to come out on the other side. That is the inspiration.

In many respects because of the upbeat ending and the release for the main character this is a more satisfactory read than Hangover Square and one that will have a lasting influence on my life.

2 comments:

janettecurrieconsultancy said...

Interesting review - makes me want to read it but I haven't read any Hamilton before. D'you recommend this as the one to start with or should I go to the back list first and then come to SoS?

Simon Quicke said...

I read hangover Square first but tweeters said this was better. I'm not sure it would hurt reading this one first. The ability to take characters into a confined space is there in both books. Found this one more inspirational in terms of ending.