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England in the middle of World War II, a war that seems fated to go on forever, a war that has become a way of life. Heroic resistance is old hat. Everything is in short supply, and tempers are even shorter. Overwhelmed by the terrors and rigors of the Blitz, middle-aged Miss Roach has retreated to the relative safety and stupefying boredom of the suburban town of Thames L England in the middle of World War II, a war that seems fated to go on forever, a war that has become a way of life. Heroic resistance is old hat. Everything is in short supply, and tempers are even shorter. Overwhelmed by the terrors and rigors of the Blitz, middle-aged Miss Roach has retreated to the relative safety and stupefying boredom of the suburban town of Thames Lockdon, where she rents a room in a boarding house run by Mrs. Payne. There the savvy, sensible, decent, but all-too-meek Miss Roach endures the dinner-table interrogations of Mr. Thwaites and seeks to relieve her solitude by going out drinking and necking with a wayward American lieutenant. Life is almost bearable until Vicki Kugelmann, a seeming friend, moves into the adjacent room. That’s when Miss Roach’s troubles really begin. Recounting an epic battle of wills in the claustrophobic confines of the boarding house, Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, with a delightfully improbable heroine, is one of the finest and funniest books ever written about the trials of a lonely heart.


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England in the middle of World War II, a war that seems fated to go on forever, a war that has become a way of life. Heroic resistance is old hat. Everything is in short supply, and tempers are even shorter. Overwhelmed by the terrors and rigors of the Blitz, middle-aged Miss Roach has retreated to the relative safety and stupefying boredom of the suburban town of Thames L England in the middle of World War II, a war that seems fated to go on forever, a war that has become a way of life. Heroic resistance is old hat. Everything is in short supply, and tempers are even shorter. Overwhelmed by the terrors and rigors of the Blitz, middle-aged Miss Roach has retreated to the relative safety and stupefying boredom of the suburban town of Thames Lockdon, where she rents a room in a boarding house run by Mrs. Payne. There the savvy, sensible, decent, but all-too-meek Miss Roach endures the dinner-table interrogations of Mr. Thwaites and seeks to relieve her solitude by going out drinking and necking with a wayward American lieutenant. Life is almost bearable until Vicki Kugelmann, a seeming friend, moves into the adjacent room. That’s when Miss Roach’s troubles really begin. Recounting an epic battle of wills in the claustrophobic confines of the boarding house, Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude, with a delightfully improbable heroine, is one of the finest and funniest books ever written about the trials of a lonely heart.

30 review for The Slaves of Solitude (New York Review Books Classics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Anyone who actually listens to my opinions and bases their library picks on my star ratings (hi, mom!) deserves to know what the unusual fifth star represents. My stars make zero effort at even an obviously subjective judgment of how "good" I think a book is. Instead, the fourth star is a measure of how much I personally enjoy a book and find it engaging, while my elusive fifth star is granted when I feel a book has made enough of an impression on me that it's demonstrably changed my life. I hone Anyone who actually listens to my opinions and bases their library picks on my star ratings (hi, mom!) deserves to know what the unusual fifth star represents. My stars make zero effort at even an obviously subjective judgment of how "good" I think a book is. Instead, the fourth star is a measure of how much I personally enjoy a book and find it engaging, while my elusive fifth star is granted when I feel a book has made enough of an impression on me that it's demonstrably changed my life. I honestly don't know that I've ever related as much to a character in a book as I did to Miss Roach in The Slaves of Solitude. In a way, that seems like a crazily personal thing to admit to strangers and loved ones on the internet, but I suppose that horse escaped from the barn a long time ago.... While I'm making inappropriately intimate online pronouncements, I'll reveal that I read this on Christmas, which perhaps not incidentally was the day of an annual break-down-and-cry-noisily-for-forty-minutes-or-so-in-the-empty-bathtub- whilst-suddenly-overcome-by-the-immutable-inevitability-of-human-loneliness - sort-of-existential-crisis little thing that can happen sometimes around the holidays when I don't wind up going over to the Cratchits' for figgy pudding and make the mistake of staying home alone.... Anyways, this Christmas, after I finally stopped sobbing and decided to pull myself out of the tub and put some clothes on and try to behave like an ordinary atheistic Jew with plenty of lovely friends and a wonderful family and no right at all to freak out on such a ridiculous occasion, I was overcome with gratitude towards Patrick Hamilton for so perfectly conveying that very sense of inescapable and excruciating loneliness from which we all spend 364 days of the year trying to shield ourselves.... Thank heavens I had the rest of this book to turn to on that awful day! Of course, later on, it occurred to me that Mr. Hamilton's novel might have been at least partially responsible not just for pulling me out of my Yuletide meltdown, but also for pushing me into it, so maybe I needn't have felt so grateful.... Still. Even if the book was the cause and not just the cure, is that really so bad? It's probably healthful to confront, on occasion, one's unavoidable, soul-crushing solitude, and there are doubtless worse ways to get there -- and back -- than this wonderful book. Okay, so I need to admit the possibility that another reader might emerge a bit perplexed from a foray into Slaves of Solitude, scratching his or her head and saying, "Well, Jessica, it's not bad or anything, it's fine, but it is sort of the book version of one of those weird, stiff, old colorless BBC comedies that are kind of oddly funny in that strange British way that neither of us really get because we're American. Isn't it true that you've got your knickers (so to speak) in a twist over some shriveled up Limeys crankily insulting one another over boiled meat?" And yeah, I mean, I guess Slaves of Solitude is kind of like that. It's set in a boarding house during World War II, in a tiny suburban village where our heroine Miss Roach has gone to escape from London during the Blitz. That is pretty old BBC comedy already, yeah? Please do not be fooled by the New York Review Books' sexy, stylish cover! No one in this book is good-looking or has any allure whatsoever, at all. This is a novel about drab, miserable people who are trapped in their cramped and uncomfortable sad little lives. Most of the novel is Ms. Roach being bullied by the villainous dull, pompous, elderly Mr. Thwaits, over shitty WWII-era English dinners in the boarding house dining room. The unattractively aging Ms. Roach chokes down unremitting rounds of "gin and french" with her American Lieutenant and German frenemy; she takes the train to and from work, and stolidly, despairingly, quietly, bravely, gets up day after bleak, hungover, blacked-out day of an indeterminable war, an indeterminable life.... ughhhh..... I mean, I suppose it's sort of bleak, in a way. But it's also pretty funny! Ha ha! Oh, I loved it. Someone else should read this and tell me if it's at all as great as I thought it was, or if it just really struck a chord for some reason. I honestly can't remember the last time I related to strongly to any character in fiction! It also provided some perspective. I mean, at least we're not in the middle of a world war at the moment, right? Jesus.... Also, this has some of the best descriptions I've read of what it's like to be drinking a lot, around other people who're also drinking a lot, and everyone's just so miserable and exhausted and awful.... Great! Okay, so here's a wonderful excerpt, in which Hamilton puts the experience of waking up in the morning in a singularly harsh new light: Even then the guests did not wake into full life. Instead, there was a dazed period in which each guest, turning in bed, renewed his acquaintanceship with his own problems and the fact that a war was being waged all over the world, and, finally rising and flinging back the curtains, contemplated the awful scene of wreckage caused by his sleep. The feeling of the morning after the night before is not a sensation endured by the dissolute only: every morning, for every human being, is in some sort a morning after the night before: the dissolute merely experience it in a more intense degree. There is an air of debauch about tossed bed-clothes, stale air, cold hot-water bottles, and last night's cast-off clothing, from which even the primmest of maiden ladies cannot hope to escape. Sleep is gross, a form of abandonment, and it is impossible for anyone to awake and observe its sordid consequences save with a faint sense of recent dissipation, of minute personal disquiet and remorse. (pp 62-63) AAARGHH!!! If you don't think that's great, you're a nutball! I'm gonna read Hangover Square next. I can't wait!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude may take place during the second world war, and does have a bleak sounding title, but you will find no death in the trenches or the destruction of whole towns and cities here, in fact, now thinking about it this has a feel like the old classic British sitcoms I remember as a child. Set predominantly in a boarding house called the Rosamund Tea Rooms located by the river in Thames Lockdon to the west of London, which sees The heroine, Miss Roach, a single Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude may take place during the second world war, and does have a bleak sounding title, but you will find no death in the trenches or the destruction of whole towns and cities here, in fact, now thinking about it this has a feel like the old classic British sitcoms I remember as a child. Set predominantly in a boarding house called the Rosamund Tea Rooms located by the river in Thames Lockdon to the west of London, which sees The heroine, Miss Roach, a single 39 year old who appears rather boring and unexceptional, carry on her humble life commuting to and from work along with mingling with other various characters who take up resident with her, including the comic, stiff upper lipped Mr Thwaites who always carries a face of tireless malice, and later on a manipulating German called Vicki Kugelmann who gate crashes the party in more ways than one. With many American soldiers stationed near by, it would be Lieutenant Pike who catches the eye of Miss Roach and they start meeting up for drinks in the local pub, however along comes Vicky to put a spanner in the works that lead to hilarious and bitter confrontations!. The tone of the book is altogether lighthearted and has that quintessential English backbone, like that of Evelyn Waugh. There are some classic moments, especially those when the residents are being served breakfast or tea, that had me thinking of Fawlty Towers or Allo 'Allo!, and although on the surface things do seem comical, you always have to try and remember there is a war going on, and the people are generally struggling, more with themselves than anything else. When The Slaves of Solitude was published in 1947, the poet John Betjeman sung it's praises, saying Hamilton was one the greats, and I can why. The writing and the way he handles his characters is really impressive. The novel is difficult to pigeonhole as it is neither modernist nor consciously anti-modernist, and it contains no anticipations of postmodernism. It certainly feels cinematic, but also like a play due to its small closed mannerisms, especially the scenes when the characters are dining. The central character of miss Roach didn't really hit me with any pulling emotions by the end, and will definitely remember the Slaves of Solitude more for the supporting cast of diverse characters. Hamilton shifts the narrative point of view to others in the narrative, or interpolates an authorial comment whenever it suits his purpose. One one point of the novel was the clash of cultures between the American lieutenant (big, brash, and confident), with that of the English miss Roach (sad, weary and unsure). When sitting in a smoke filled bar packed full of loud, drunk squaddies, she really does feel like a fish out of water!, and when the German Vicki comes into the picture to steel her man (although she never really had him in the first place), jealously leads her to believe that Vicki is in fact a Nazi spy!, with some crackling funny moments that would follow. Reading the Slaves of Solitude was a real pleasure, and showcases Hamilton as one of England's premier writers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Reading some novels is like mountaineering (the North Face of Dosto), other novels are like an unpleasant bruising fall into an open manhole (Antkind), others are like an argument with someone you quickly realise is cleverer than you (The Man without Qualities) and other novels – thankfully - are like a plateful of Haagen-Dazs Honey Salted Caramel Almond icecream, like this one. The worst thing about it, let’s get that out of the way, is the title. You think – What? The Slaves of Solitude? Sounds Reading some novels is like mountaineering (the North Face of Dosto), other novels are like an unpleasant bruising fall into an open manhole (Antkind), others are like an argument with someone you quickly realise is cleverer than you (The Man without Qualities) and other novels – thankfully - are like a plateful of Haagen-Dazs Honey Salted Caramel Almond icecream, like this one. The worst thing about it, let’s get that out of the way, is the title. You think – What? The Slaves of Solitude? Sounds really bleak. Maybe I should read something a little lighter, like Being and Nothingness. This would be wrong, because this novel is a lovely black comedy, and is as English as it’s possible to be, and is absolutely perfect for fans of miserable British comedy like Alfie, Withnail and I or The Trip, and furthermore is absolutely perfect for anyone who likes detailed flesh-crawling investigations into the psychological horrors of life in a boarding house in a small town near London in 1943 and furthermore is absolutely perfect for anyone who likes a very funny novel about painfully repressed people living tiny tiny lives. I think this means you. Here’s one man’s view of the boarding house guests: They didn’t talk, they didn’t laugh, they didn’t seem to enjoy their food, they didn’t seem to go out, they didn’t seem to have any interests, they didn’t seem to like each other much, they didn’t even seem to hate each other, they didn’t seem to do anything. As the faraway world war rages, the tiny snubs and bland-but-venomous comments and vicious underminings build from the merest fleeting moments into a poisoncloud that takes many delicious pages to explode and distribute scattered limbs and rolling heads everywhere. It’s heaven!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    The time is the dead of winter and the dead of war and the characters are the captives of a boarding house – “this apparent mortuary of desire and passion”. Thus looked at from outside, these guests – in this dead-and-alive dining-room, of this dead-and-alive house, of this dead-and-alive street, of this dead-and-alive little town – in the grey, dead winter of the deadliest part of the most deadly war in history – thus seen from a detached point of view, they presented an extraordinary spectacle. The time is the dead of winter and the dead of war and the characters are the captives of a boarding house – “this apparent mortuary of desire and passion”. Thus looked at from outside, these guests – in this dead-and-alive dining-room, of this dead-and-alive house, of this dead-and-alive street, of this dead-and-alive little town – in the grey, dead winter of the deadliest part of the most deadly war in history – thus seen from a detached point of view, they presented an extraordinary spectacle. The forsaken and lovelorn – they’re tortured by loneliness, they are islands in the ocean of war and they are prisoners of despair. They didn’t talk, they didn’t laugh, they didn’t seem to enjoy their food, they didn’t seem to go out, they didn’t seem to have any interests, they didn’t seem to like each other much, they didn’t even seem to hate each other, they didn’t seem to do anything. All they seemed to do was to crawl in one by one, murmur a little to the waitress, mutter little requests to pass the salt, shift in their chairs, occasionally modestly cough or blow their noses, sit, eat, wait, eat, sit, and at last crawl out again, one by one… Patrick Hamilton is an excellent psychologist and he tells his story as if he is writing a patient’s case history. But he mercifully ends his sad tale on the all’s-well-that-ends-well note. Sooner or later wars come to an end and any peace is a bliss…

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    Of all the books I've attempted to review on this website, none has given me more trouble than Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude. I realize that there are two primary reasons for this critical reticence on my part: (1) The quality control department of my review-writing factory is in shambles. The employees are mutinous, indifferent, and suffering from a midgrade malaise that causes them to spend their days using a bent hanger to fish free stuff out of the vending machine and trying out Of all the books I've attempted to review on this website, none has given me more trouble than Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude. I realize that there are two primary reasons for this critical reticence on my part: (1) The quality control department of my review-writing factory is in shambles. The employees are mutinous, indifferent, and suffering from a midgrade malaise that causes them to spend their days using a bent hanger to fish free stuff out of the vending machine and trying out serif fonts for the résumés they plan on submitting to more vote-profitable, stable review-writing empires. (i.e., Ben Harrison, Inc.) This anemic QC department now entirely fails to reign in my autobiographical tangents, self-indulgent ramblings, and dadaist excursions into logical non sequiturs. Before an overseas venture buys me out and shutters me for good, I'd like to apologize for the overall lack of quality of late (relatively speaking, of course -- I've always been idiotically digressive). I've pumped out more shit in last couple months than a man with ebola, I.B.S., and a penchant for White Castle. (2) This particular book is just doggone hard to review because whenever I hear the voices in my head talking about it, describing it, alluding to its many charms, I think, 'Ach! How boring.' In other words, it doesn't really sound like a very good book, although it is. So how do I attempt to manage a P.R. blitz that'll make you wanna haul your keister over to your nearest upholstered device of assisted recumbency and read this fucker? (Incidentally, I didn't know how to spell 'keister' and since I had Wikipedia open, I used that to find the spelling. This delivered me via detour to the entry for 'buttocks' which prominently displayed nude examples of the male and female varieties thereof. Tangentially, I'd like to confess that I wish my buttocks were beautiful enough to be a butt model. It's one of those little dreams you stow away in a heart-shaped locket and don't tell anyone about.) Okay. Here goes. So The Slaves of Solitude, although it deals with lots of stuff (helpful, eh?), could be classified in that tentative genre of boarding house horror. Not horror in the sense of machete-wielding sociopaths and discordant notes played on a piano followed by *surprise* evisceration. This is psychological horror. For my money, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne kind of closed the book definitely on this genre... until now. I never ever ever ever ever want to live in a boarding house -- and by logical extension in one of those stupid hippie commune houses where everyone pools their money from their jobs at the incense store and grows vegetables using refortified, sustainable, organic feces and then gets into a fist fight about who gets to eat the last Pop Tart because there's no individual property (and because modern 'hippies' are really, really dumb). I mean, basically your average English boarding house experience (insofar as I can glean from literature) is just a variant on the Sartre No Exit scenario. A bunch of people forced to eat scones and tea together until they're completely psychologically terrorized by the very existence of each other. Take Mr. Thwaites from this book, for example. He's this old crusty irritating dude who, during WWII, retains some residual German sympathies (at the expense of those commie Russians, of course) and enjoys making all sorts of loud, snide remarks while you're trying to spread your marmalade. Also, he seems to dislike women for the most part (the main character Miss Roach in particular) until this cunty German woman named Vicki Kugelmann moves into the boarding house and puts on her best Marlene Dietrich routine. So Miss Roach -- acting as a surrogate for you and me and as our psychological entryway into this novel -- loathes these two assholes, but is forced to remain all proper, stiff-upper-lipped, and indubitably British at the dinner table while these two flirt up a dust storm. Forget the fact that Vicki is catty and Thwaites is the Plato Form of crackpot curmudgeon... You just want to physically enter the novel, storm into that mouse-quiet dining room, and give those people a good bitch-slap. And if a novel makes you empathize that strongly with a character (Miss Roach) and viscerally despise two other characters so much that you want to come bounding through the Fourth Wall (Is it the Fourth Wall in literature too? Well, it is now.) and serve up a little comeuppance, then it's a success on anyone's scale, right? Luckily for us, (mini-spoiler) Miss Roach does the retaliatory deed for us. To a certain extent. Thank you, Miss Roach, and thank you, Patrick Hamilton.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Many, many, many thanks to Doug H for recommending this one! In my opinion it is a perfect book, yes, a masterpiece, but don't ask me to tell you why. It's one of those books that is the sum of it's parts. It has some loathsome characters that you can't really hate too much. Other characters who are good, but you don't really like them very much either. The setting is a sad little boarding house just outside of London in 1943. (Please God, never let me have to live in a boarding house!) There's M Many, many, many thanks to Doug H for recommending this one! In my opinion it is a perfect book, yes, a masterpiece, but don't ask me to tell you why. It's one of those books that is the sum of it's parts. It has some loathsome characters that you can't really hate too much. Other characters who are good, but you don't really like them very much either. The setting is a sad little boarding house just outside of London in 1943. (Please God, never let me have to live in a boarding house!) There's Mr. Thwaites, the loudmouth bully, Miss Enid Roach, our heroine, who is a 38 year old spinster with a very unfortunate name, Mr. Prest, an aging entertainer, Miss Steel, another older spinster who reads a lot of history, Mrs. Barrett, a sickly widow, an American soldier who is a womanizer with a drinking problem, and Miss Vicky Kugelmann, a German spinster determined to cause trouble. I'm sure that list of characters has you saying, I'll pass on this one. But wait, I'll quote some of the incredibly funny lines and paragraphs that had me in stitches. On second thought, that won't work either, because they just sound stupid taken out of context. Perfect dialogue, but you had to be there. OK then, the plot. Well, it's complicated. Convoluted. Think Barbara Pym on steroids. Themes? Couldn't begin to guess. OK, here's the thing. You're just going to have to take my word for it, and Doug's, and all the other reviewers who loved this book, but can't tell you why exactly. It is a perfect little masterpiece and you will get so wrapped up in these people's lives that you will lose track of time. It is wonderful, the ending is wonderful. I loved it. Read it. I will leave you with a quote, not from the book, but from a slip of paper I found inside my used copy. Written on a typewriter on a 4 by 6 card was this message: "This is an absorbing novel that you might like to read......"

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andy Marr

    For so long, this one was destined for five stars. But then, with around 30 pages left, it just sort of petered out, so it loses some points for that. Still, it was the funniest book I've read in months, and the cruel, completely ridiculous Mr Thwaites was a revelation. I've already added him to my list of all-time favourite characters in literature 😅

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mariel

    'Old Roach.' 'Old Cockrock.' Driven out on to the streets, and walking about in the blackness, as she had done that night, months ago, before all this had begun. 'Old Cockroach.' That was her. That was how they had started with her, and that was how it would always be. She might have known this- she might have known better than to have suspected the possibility of any brighter destiny. If she hadn't cried herself out already, she could go back and cry. But she had cried herself out. It was all o 'Old Roach.' 'Old Cockrock.' Driven out on to the streets, and walking about in the blackness, as she had done that night, months ago, before all this had begun. 'Old Cockroach.' That was her. That was how they had started with her, and that was how it would always be. She might have known this- she might have known better than to have suspected the possibility of any brighter destiny. If she hadn't cried herself out already, she could go back and cry. But she had cried herself out. It was all over now- even tears. It isn't that bad, or the end of the world. If you woke up light enough that day it won't destroy the well being in yourself you've stored up until you can get home to your safe place in the evening. If you're lucky you can get to your car in time, your book will be good enough and the music will continue in your head as you walk back inside to the soul sucking assholes you have to put up with day in and day out. Maybe everyone won't believe that YOU said the nasty things about them that the true culprit blamed on you. Most of my days are spent in the company of a little prick I call in my head "the turtle". I try not to think about the turtle too much once I am free. It is hard enough to live with it as it is. It is enough to say that he sucks. A description of if Mr. Smithers from The Simpsons got his wish and screwed his love Mr. Burns for his love child and that hell spawn grew up to be my coworker will give you some of the bad hotel art picture (think turtles playing poker. Turtle likes to let poker chips fall out of his pocket to initiate bragging about some silly amount he won playing that weekend. I don't want to talk about turtle now. See how they get in your head?) Sometimes, though, it is so hard to go back and face it again. I feel pathetic to be an adult woman and in the same bullied place I was when I was in elementary school and all other institutions thereafter. Miss Roach has to live with her tormentors at home in the boardinghouse she stays in after fleeing a bombed out WWII London. She doesn't exactly sit there and take it, either (nor do I). But it sucks. It is where you have to live. It is exhausting to put on a brave face and then put it no again when it has fallen from the effort it takes to maintain it. Mr. Thwaite is the loathsome cartoonish character I can't imagine anyone would take seriously. He's frightening because he's always there, a large figure with his dining room utensils to thump the tables in his tantrums. A king's trident in one fist and Ursula's body language of fat man breast wiggles to intimidate the younger women in the crowd of cowering retiring lonely women. Shovel it in and talk, talk, talk. His life must be faced every day too. I'd feel sorry for him if I was afraid that I would ever be him on the day he sees himself in the eyes of those poor old women. He may be rich, or at least has enough to avoid worries of a struggle. That doesn't mean he slithers any less. To get so drunk to make a pass it must be sad indeed to be that stupid man. Each end of his hole is a dark hole devoid of reason or empathy. I couldn't abide his conversation for one night let alone let him control everyone's night after night as they do in the Rosamond Tea Rooms. If I were sitting at the table with him I might have exchanged a meaningful smirk with Miss Roach over his buffooning. Once in a while one of the ladies might notice enough to meekly come to her aid. It isn't nothing when she's told that "It'll all come out in the wash" when it has become too much, too cold to live with the repression any longer. But I kind of had it with Hamilton informing me that Miss Roach was secretly their heroine for standing up to the man in her small way. She was their heroine because she dared to leave the home for walks or visits to a pub. It didn't have to be that cold, did it? And, observing the purification of Mr. Prest, Miss Roach herself felt purified. She would have been surprised, a few months ago, if someone had told her that she was one day going to be purified by Mr. Prest- that that forlorn, silent man in the corner, that morose wearer of plus-fours, that slinker to his room, that stroller to the station, that idler and hanger-about in bars, had within him the love of small children and the gift of public purification! Sometimes a smile on someone's face can make it easier to imagine that it is enough. It will be true what they say about tomorrow being another day. I liked this touch in The Slaves of Solitude in the bullying of Miss Roach (and in different ways) of the other residents. Everyone isn't like Mr. Thwaites and the hideous American Lieutenant who urges and takes and drinks and demands. He has a glass in his hand to be filled while the (probably by not that much) older man has a knife to pick up whatever bits of flesh you will let him take. I was more irritated that Miss Roach tries harder to forgive the men (especially the slutty American) for their own sakes while her inner resistance to tyranny from her so-called German friend Vicky felt more uncomfortable within her from her vision of herself. If you're going to imagine support from others because you need it okay. But is it for other people if you must win over one party (I liked that her means of winning against Vicky were modest ones. A better boarding house, a small sum of money. This lack of grandstanding suited my feeling of anti table thumping nicely)? Did Vicky owe Miss Roach any more than the others did? Vicky is the character with the least space to inhabit of her own. I can imagine how wormy it must feel in her skin too. The edge that would lighten if she felt good enough about herself in comparison to a woman like Miss Roach (there must have been others. As a kid some of my favorite stories of my mother's were about the gross guys she dated purposely so the girl friend she had who only wanted my mom's boyfriends would date them. Miss Roach must've been raised to think she was no good unless she ignored anything but the palatable). It would suck to be Vicky too. I don't like her one bit. Did she see Miss Roach as an English busy body who looked down on the German immigrant when her nationality wasn't a comfortable place to be? I could have imagined another side to Vicky in an easier time. Maybe the friendliness came easier and was more freely given. It was easy for everyone to do what they did. Maybe there were other beds to go to before more days of I thought my life was going to mean more than this. Something I experienced a lot with bullies was the misery of wondering what it was about me that made me deserve that kind of attention. I liked that The Slaves of Solitude kept this forced down inside, peeking out in the teaching days of Miss Roach or whenever her cruel housemates call her Roachy (if you told them you hated it they would only do it more), even if that means missing one of the crueler parts of bullying. You have to protect yourself, right? The everything is going to be alright feeling (even if it isn't because there will be lots more cold days like those) was because of that. That's the part that stays with you even when the bullies are gone. So if no one else ever says anything you can protect yourself. Miss Roach does. It might make you feel sick to cry but why not and then get up after when you're done. Saying that doesn't help when it is happening, though. It's actually kind of annoying to hear "let it roll off your back". You already know that. When does it ever end? At least it isn't the end of the world. At least everyone isn't like that but it also sucks they all sat at those stupid dinner tables every night and let that stupid old man silence them. What were they afraid of? I am torn between finding it comforting this slight reassuring feel and relief it just admits it sucks. I probably wouldn't have found Miss Roach that compelling (she tries too hard to stay under covers of what you are supposed to think) if she didn't just want things to be warm so openly. I'm not torn about that. I liked that a lot. That helped a lot on a bad turtle day.

  9. 4 out of 5

    [P]

    When I was a kid my Dad would take me and my brother on holiday. Being poor, what this meant was that we would be crammed onto a coach, with 50 other unhappy holidaymakers, and driven to one of the nearby seaside towns, Bridlington or Scarborough. Once there, we would trawl around the near-deserted town, whilst being spied on by suspicious-looking seagulls. We would mournfully cast our eyes over the cheap plastic souvenirs in the seemingly endless rows of local shops and kiosks before heading fo When I was a kid my Dad would take me and my brother on holiday. Being poor, what this meant was that we would be crammed onto a coach, with 50 other unhappy holidaymakers, and driven to one of the nearby seaside towns, Bridlington or Scarborough. Once there, we would trawl around the near-deserted town, whilst being spied on by suspicious-looking seagulls. We would mournfully cast our eyes over the cheap plastic souvenirs in the seemingly endless rows of local shops and kiosks before heading for a cold, windy, and dirty beach. Mercifully, around midday we would leave the beach and head for a café and eat fish and chips with enough salt and vinegar to make your eyes water and your tongue tingle. We always ate fish and chips, because that’s just what you do when you’re on holiday. After eating we would perhaps take a stroll towards the arcades. The arcades incorporated a bunch of slot machines and video games that were hopelessly out of date. I would play some sort of football game and my brother would play Street Fighter. Then we would have a go at an evil contraption which involved a series of shifting plates, upon which were mounds of old coins, mostly made up of 2p's. The idea was to drop your own coin into the slot and wait, in agonised suspense, to see if it would be the one to push the overhanging mound of old coins over the edge, so as to allow you to pocket them. Of course, this never happened. It is impossible. In the entire history of the world no one has ever won. And what if you had won? Who wants a heavy pocketful of 2p's anyway? But play you must. In the afternoon, we would take another stroll, a tired but strangely upbeat stroll, for the day was coming to an end. We would eat candy floss. You had to do it. If you didn’t eat candy floss you’d have to eat a stick of rock, and no one wanted that. At around five p.m. we would make our way towards the spot where the coach was to pick us up and return us to an equally miserable, but less indolent existence. I tell this story because my memories of being on holiday with my dad conjure up the same kind of melancholy feeling I experienced while reading Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude. I am sure you could say this of all countries, but the English experience is a unique one, especially once you leave the bigger cities and head out towards the eternally dying coastal towns and little villages. There’s a unique kind of misery involved when one stays in or visits these places. Being English, no one ever really voices this misery, you simply suffer in silence, and pray for some sort of escape, be that the coach or train that will take you away, or death. I'm not suggesting that you must be English to enjoy the book, because that is clearly not the case, but I think it will resonate most strongly with someone from these shores. The Slaves of Solitude is set in Thames Lockdon during World War Two; and is centred around a boarding house, the Rosamund Tea Rooms, which is mostly populated by spinsterish old women. The central character is Miss Roach, a timid, self-questioning, and pretty fucking unhappy, thirty-something, who is staying in Thames Lockdon, not as a holiday, but in order to avoid the full force of the war in the capital. She is, in a way, in hiding, or certainly in retreat; and that tension and unease, that sense of being somewhere that you really ought not to be, somewhere that is alien, lingers over the novel. For me, Hamilton’s novel is the greatest representation of the drudgery of a mediocre existence in literature. Miss Roach goes for walks, occasionally, but the majority of her time is spent, when not at work, in the guest house, in silent conflict with her surroundings, the owner, and, most intensely, Mr. Thwaites. The self-important Thwaites is a masterpiece of cuntishness; he’s a bastard of epic proportions [the “president in Hell”], and he is, also, probably the single funniest character in any novel I have read. His M.O. is a kind of passive-aggressive [less passive than aggressive] verbal bullying. Again, it’s a very English kind of bullying, whereby instead of openly declaring one’s dislike for something or someone, one will make sarcastic allusions and jibes while appearing, on the surface, to be merely engaging in debate or friendly conversation. Take, for example, this interaction between Thwaites and Miss Roach, where he is accusing her of Communist sympathies: ‘I said,’ he said, looking at her, ‘your friends seem to be mightily distinguishing themselves as usual.’ ‘Who’re my friends?’ murmured Miss Roach. ‘Your Russian friends,’ said Mr Thwaites. ‘They’re not my friends,’ said Miss Roach, wrigglingly, intending to convey that although she was friendly with the Russians she was not more friendly than anyone else, and could not therefore be expected to take all the blame in the Rosamund Tea Rooms for their recent victories. As this conversation progresses, Mr. Thwaites’ baiting of Miss Roach intensifies, and becomes somewhat surreal, as he explores the consequences of a Communist society: ‘The Coalman, no doubt, will see fit to give commands to the King,’ he said, ‘and the Navvy lord it gaily o’er the man of wealth. The banker will bow the knee to the crossing sweeper, I expect, and the millionaire take his wages from the passing tramp.’ ‘At least,’ he said, looking straight at Miss Roach, ‘that’s what you want isn’t it?’ While Thwaites, for me, dominates the novel, and Miss Roach is a believable, psychologically sound, and sympathetic heroine, many of the minor [although all of them are minor in some way – that’s the point] characters are also finely drawn. Vicki Kugelman is appropriately slimy, and the American Lieutenant Pike is brash, without coming across as a caricature or stereotype. Then there is the lovely piece of writing, a short story almost, involving Mr. Prest and the time he spends away from the Tea Rooms. This episode includes one of my favourite lines in the book, where Hamilton describes how, when playing golf, Prest will only leave the course once he has hit the ball squarely off the face of the club four or five times: Alone in the distance, lost in the wind, this obsessed figure, requiring, really, a Wordsworth to suggest the quality of its mystery and solitude. On the prose, it is both a great strength and a minor weakness. Hamilton could really write. He could write in a way that very few authors can, with consistent insight and empathy and humour. The book is chock-full of quotable, grim lines, like when he says of Thwaites “He had further narrowed his mind by a considerable amount of travel abroad, where he had again always made his way to the small hotels”; open it at any page and you will likely turn up some gold. However, on occasions Hamilton overwrote, although not in the way that one would usually understand that term. He didn’t succumb to treacly poetics, but, rather, was too keen on exposition. There are points in the text, particularly during conversation, where Hamilton resorts to over-explaining the thoughts, motivations, etc, of his characters, when it is already abundantly clear what these thoughts, motivations, etc, are on the basis of what is being said [there is an especially aggravating dialogue between Miss Roach and Vicki about a third of the way through the book]. Of course, one could argue that it is intentional, that this over-analysis is meant to amplify the atmosphere of monotony; if so, it works, but I think it is being very charitable to make that argument. In any case, The Slaves of Solitude is a fine novel; it is eminently readable, despite the slow pace and lack of explicit drama, and possesses a depth that belies the relatively small number of pages. It is dark, it is pretty much hopeless, but, for anyone who is lonely or who has spent significant time in the company of a bunch of tedious, close-minded people [we all know them] it is a strangely warming experience: that, that warmth, is the joy of seeing one’s own fears and small-scale miseries shared by others. You are not alone. Someone understands you. That is the great wonder of quality literature: you never need be completely alone.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Once again I am guilty of loving a book for what are probably all the wrong reasons. The jacket description of Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude mentions an oppression brought on by World War II, a population redistribution into the rooming houses of London’s suburbs (to escape the Blitz, among other things), and a feeling of claustrophobia that results from this migratory shift, bringing strangers from different backgrounds into close proximity but without the sense of relief that a larger city Once again I am guilty of loving a book for what are probably all the wrong reasons. The jacket description of Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude mentions an oppression brought on by World War II, a population redistribution into the rooming houses of London’s suburbs (to escape the Blitz, among other things), and a feeling of claustrophobia that results from this migratory shift, bringing strangers from different backgrounds into close proximity but without the sense of relief that a larger city (like London) would otherwise afford its inhabitants. [There were at most one or two “public houses” in these suburban settings. If you needed to get away from your roommate for a few hours you could enter into one of these establishments but there was a good chance your roommate would end up in the same place.] The premise of Slaves takes its cue from this description of wartime Britain and brings us a character whose own stifling experience living in an English boarding house is one we become intimately acquainted with. Except instead of the book being about these English boarding houses or about wartime oppression in suburban London, and even while it mentions these things repeatedly, for me this book was a voyeuristic peep show into the dramatic tribulations of a single middle-aged woman over the course of a two-month period in late 1943. And it was fantastic. It is hard to articulate what it is about a book that qualifies it for me as a “page turner”—whether it’s plot pacing or humor or internal musings that somehow hits the nail right jolly square on the head, I don’t know. But this book has all of those things. It has a slow but steady build to a glorious showdown that left me shaking in empathetic rage and excitement. When Miss Roach wants to punch something (or someone), SO THE FUCK DID I! And when her stomach gets caught in her throat for injustices that she cannnot believe are happening to her, I also could feel my pulse racing, the heat of fury rising to my cheeks. The gall of these people with whom Miss Roach has the unfortunate luck to become associated. Who do they think they are? Their impudence, their self-righteousness, their utter impropriety. We identify with Miss Roach so deeply that we feel each of these outrages personally, acutely. That is the nature of this book that spoke to me. That, along with Roachy’s own sense of self-awareness—she is honest with herself and open to the possibilities of her own faults even while most of us would have difficulty being that way under similar circumstances. Whether the book embraces any larger, overarching context, I have no idea. Nor do I even care! And I do not mean that flippantly; I’m just saying that this book worked well enough for me on a personal level that it could have happened anytime or anywhere—the “wartime-in-Britain’s-suburban-boarding-houses” thing was just a vehicle for the magnificent drama within.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This is funny, it is realistic and will have you thinking about human behavior. The setting is a boardinghouse, the converted Rosamund Tearooms in Thames Lockdon, a fictionalized Henley-on-Thames, which is situated in Oxfordshire within commuting distance from London. The year is 1943. Miss Enid Roach, in her late thirties, has removed herself from London to escape the Blitz. Residing in the boardinghouse alongside Miss Roach are the elderly Mr. Thwaites, Mr. Prest, Mrs. Barrett and Miss Steele. This is funny, it is realistic and will have you thinking about human behavior. The setting is a boardinghouse, the converted Rosamund Tearooms in Thames Lockdon, a fictionalized Henley-on-Thames, which is situated in Oxfordshire within commuting distance from London. The year is 1943. Miss Enid Roach, in her late thirties, has removed herself from London to escape the Blitz. Residing in the boardinghouse alongside Miss Roach are the elderly Mr. Thwaites, Mr. Prest, Mrs. Barrett and Miss Steele. There are also two American lieutenants who often dine with the lodgers. They reside nearby. Around the tables at meals “conversations” take place--harangues, total silence, jocularity and ribbing. There are those who talk incessantly, those who remain silent or say only an occasional word or two, but all observe, and all have definite opinions about one another. Mrs. Barrett moves out and in comes Miss Vicki Kugelmann. Look at her name. Remember, this is during the war! Watch what happens. Rivalry, jealousy and competition ensue. Sides are taken. There is a love triangle. I am tempted to tell you more about each character, but I won’t because part of the magic of the tale is discovering who they are. This novel is a character study. It is all about learning who they are and how they interact. From what is observed one draws conclusions about human behavior. What else? I also like what the book says about people during wartime. How people behave when times are hard, how we react under stress and when everything we are used to having is gone. Everything once taken for granted can no longer be taken for granted. Life is in flux. Do we remain reasonable, calm and cool? What do you think?! Every character plays a role. There is no padding. The ending is perfect, not too happy nor too sad. It’s real. Some classify this as satirical, dark comedy. I just see it as very, very funny. Are you able to laugh at human behavior? Look at the name of the fictionalized town—Thames Lockdon. Think about the name chosen. Do you see the humor in that? Often the humor becomes apparent after thinking. Lucy Scott narrates the audiobook. I have given her narration five stars. She has not created the funny lines, but she certainly brings them to the fore. I absolutely loved her intonation for the Americans……and Vicki. She does absolutely all of them perfectly. I highly recommend the audiobook. If you enjoy character studies that make you laugh and make you think, you will get a huge kick out of this. I am tempted to give it five stars. ******************** The Slaves of Solitude 4 stars Craven House 4 stars Hangover Square TBR

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nigeyb

    What a marvellous book. I've enjoyed four other Patrick Hamilton novels (Hangover Square and the Gorse Trilogy) and this is right up there with the best. Hamilton returns to some of his familiar themes: London, the War, and fascism. Set in 1943 it deals with the ordinary lives of ordinary people. As well as the battles facing Britain, there is one closer to home. The battle between the novel's protagonist Miss Roach, a shy spinster in her thirties, and the monstrous Mr Thwaites, with whom she has What a marvellous book. I've enjoyed four other Patrick Hamilton novels (Hangover Square and the Gorse Trilogy) and this is right up there with the best. Hamilton returns to some of his familiar themes: London, the War, and fascism. Set in 1943 it deals with the ordinary lives of ordinary people. As well as the battles facing Britain, there is one closer to home. The battle between the novel's protagonist Miss Roach, a shy spinster in her thirties, and the monstrous Mr Thwaites, with whom she has the misfortune to live with in a boarding house just outside London. Mr Thwaites represents fascism, and is a malevolent bully, who takes every opportunity to attack Miss Roach during their shared meals. He is sinister and comically absurd and is part of what makes this book so powerful. Patrick Hamilton's use of language is magnificent and, after a gripping narrative, the slaves of solitude return to their lives of stoicism. I don't want to say anymore for fear of giving too much away. Suffice it to say this is one of the best books I've read in ages. Anyone who enjoys Patrick Hamilton. or is interested in finding out more, really should pay a visit to... The Patrick Hamilton Appreciation Society

  13. 5 out of 5

    Doug H

    I don’t enjoy reading rambling reviews of books, nor do I usually write them. To me, there’s something pompous and presumptuous about laying out paragraph after paragraph of personal musings and expecting anyone else to be all that interested in your thoughts. With that said, here's my long rambling review of Patrick Hamilton’s stellar The Slaves of Solitude. There may be tangents, there may be quotes, there may be lots of gushing. You’ve been forewarned. I’ve never read anything quite like this I don’t enjoy reading rambling reviews of books, nor do I usually write them. To me, there’s something pompous and presumptuous about laying out paragraph after paragraph of personal musings and expecting anyone else to be all that interested in your thoughts. With that said, here's my long rambling review of Patrick Hamilton’s stellar The Slaves of Solitude. There may be tangents, there may be quotes, there may be lots of gushing. You’ve been forewarned. I’ve never read anything quite like this novel before. It works on many levels simultaneously (psychological suspense novel, dry comedy, historical novel, social commentary, among others); so much so that I didn’t know what to think of it initially. For roughly the first 50 pages, I was admiring the author’s writing style, but I didn’t feel strongly connected to the story. Then, something clicked for me. It was like I suddenly found myself “in on” a great joke: a joke that had been going on for quite a while before I finally realized it. From that point on, I began loving this little gem and I wanted it to go on for a lot longer than it did. Why did I love it so much? I loved it for its messed-up characters. (Except for Mr. Prest, they are ALL barmy; and that definitely includes you, Miss Roach. Sorry, not sorry.) I loved it for its dry humor. (I literally laughed out loud at the villainous Mr. Thwaites several times and I’m smiling again now in remembering him.) I loved it for its serious examinations of loneliness and despair. (A bit too personal for me to go into here, but haven’t we all had moments of existential crisis in our lives?) Finally, I loved it for Hamilton’s unique and playful language; most especially his brilliant extended metaphors. Check out this one in the first two sentences of the novel: “London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.” Here’s another one, towards the end of the novel: “If sleep, she thought, could be compared to a gentle lake in a dark place, then sleeplessness was a roaring ocean, a raging, wind-buffeted voyage, lit with mad rocket-lights, pursued by wild phantoms from behind, plunging upon fearful rocks ahead, a mad tempest of the past and present and future all in one. Through all this the pale, strenuous mariner must somehow steer a way, until at last the weary dawn, not of sleep, but of resignation to sleeplessness, comes to calm the waters of the mind.” Hamilton’s playful language is part of what saves his novel from lapsing into the depressing melodrama that it might have been at the hands of a lesser writer. While heart-crushingly poetic at times, it also provides much of the comic relief. Check out some of Miss Roach’s twisted thought processes: “She was, she saw, always having thoughts for which she rebuked herself. It then flashed across her mind that the thoughts for which she rebuked herself seldom turned out to be other than shrewd and fruitful thoughts: and then she rebuked herself for this as well.” “She must pull herself together. This was pure lunacy. Any sane person, knowing what was going on in her head and regarding her objectively, would see that she was out of her mind. Well, if she was a lunatic, there was one lunatic thing she could do. She could do it now, if she had enough courage. She decided she had.” Lastly, check out these descriptions of my favorite character, Mr. Prest, the only truly sane (and saving) one in the bunch: “Mr. Prest has a resonant and beery voice, and a face of that pugilistic cast which is acquired by certain music hall comedians as well as pugilists: it is almost as though they bears the marks of eggs, vegetables, and dead cats thrown at them on Saturday nights in their strenuous past.” “Mr. Prest thought that the old man was a noisy, nattering, messy piece of work who ought to be in a mental home. He liked and pitied Miss Roach. He thought that the German woman was about as frightful a bitch as you were likely to find anywhere, and that something pretty nasty was going on…” Okay, I hear you, that was a lot of quotes to get through and definitely they’re better read in context. So, read the novel. It’s a good 'un. I’m off to the pub for a Gin & French!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cphe

    When I started this novel I didn't realise just how much I would enjoy it and come to caring about the very genteel and restrained Miss Roach. Centered around the inhabitants of a boarding house during the Blitz of the second world war it's a wonderful character study of the inhabitants who reside there. The story is mainly told through the eyes of the spinisterish Miss Roach and her battles with two of the residents, the bully Mr Thwaites and the very manipulative German woman Vicki. This was a When I started this novel I didn't realise just how much I would enjoy it and come to caring about the very genteel and restrained Miss Roach. Centered around the inhabitants of a boarding house during the Blitz of the second world war it's a wonderful character study of the inhabitants who reside there. The story is mainly told through the eyes of the spinisterish Miss Roach and her battles with two of the residents, the bully Mr Thwaites and the very manipulative German woman Vicki. This was a gentler read than my usual fare but was a wonderful read. There are the descriptions of the time period, the blackouts, the rationing, civilian life in war time. However it's the marvellous descriptions of the inhabitants of the boarding house that really draws you into the story. A wonderful read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    JSou

    Who knew Patrick Hamilton had such a rough, crazy life? Here's a few nuggets I read in his author bio after opening the cover: His father was a bullying alcoholic comedian and historical novelist; his mother, a sometime singer. After his mother withdrew him from Westminster School at the age of fifteen... In 1927 Hamilton fell unhappily in love with a prostitute... In 1932, he was badly injured and permanently disfigured after being hit by a car. Hamilton died of cirrhosis of the liver and kidney fai Who knew Patrick Hamilton had such a rough, crazy life? Here's a few nuggets I read in his author bio after opening the cover: His father was a bullying alcoholic comedian and historical novelist; his mother, a sometime singer. After his mother withdrew him from Westminster School at the age of fifteen... In 1927 Hamilton fell unhappily in love with a prostitute... In 1932, he was badly injured and permanently disfigured after being hit by a car. Hamilton died of cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure after a lifetime of heavy drinking. An alcoholic, asshole dad? Forced to drop out of school at fifteen? Fell in love with a hooker? Disfigured after being hit by a car?? (Further reading showed it was a facial disfigurement-!!!) Pretty much drank himself to death at the age of 58? Damn, Mr. Hamilton, I'm sorry. But at the same time, if any of the above events in any way inspired your writing, I feel almost grateful. The Slaves of Solitude have some of the most real, identifiable, and loathsome characters I have ever read about. I mean, E-V-E-R. There were so many times reading about Miss Roach and sometimes even Mr. Prest, I felt like I was reading exact thoughts I've had myself. I also have never felt such raw, burning hatred for a character as I did while reading about Vicki Kugelmann. Mildred from Of Human Bondage comes close, but if given the choice, I would rather have a giggling, girly slumber party with Mildred than have to even be in the same room for a minute with VK. Really, she was awful--but believable. The story itself is great; the descriptions of everything were perfect. I loved that this was my intro into Hamilton's work, which I will now be finding more of, and very soon.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Had Charles Dickens travelled forward in time, had Muriel Spark travelled back, had they met in wartime London, they might have collaborated on this book. “London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs Had Charles Dickens travelled forward in time, had Muriel Spark travelled back, had they met in wartime London, they might have collaborated on this book. “London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.” They didn’t, but Patrick Hamilton was there, and when I picked up this book I quickly realised that he was a far more interesting author than I had expected. Miss Roach worked for a publisher in the heart of London, but she had been bombed out of her room in Kensington a year earlier. She found lodgings in a run down boarding house. An upstairs room with a feeble ceiling light, a slippery synthetic bedspread, curtains that wouldn’t quite meet, and no bedside light. Such was genteel poverty for Miss Roach, and for the other middle aged women and men who were boarding at the redeployed Rosamund Tea Rooms in 1943. The worst of the Blitz had past but they were still worn down by the effects of the war. “The war was slowly, cleverly, month by month, week by week, emptying the shelves of the shops — sneaking cigarettes from the tobacconists, sweets from the confectioners, paper, pens and envelopes from the stationers, fittings from the hardware stores, beer from the public houses, and so on endlessly — while at the same time gradually removing crockery from the refreshment bars, railings from familiar places, means of transport from the streets, accommodation from the hotels, and sitting or even standing room on the trains.” They were also worn down by Mr Thwaites. I could compare him to a villain by Charles Dickens, I could compare him to a grotesque by Molly Keane. He is an extraordinary character: a spoilt attention-seeking child who never grew up and who never seems to have been pulled up on his behaviour; a man who had travelled and decided that facism was the answer to the world’s problems; and a bully whose target was Miss Roach. Mr Thwaites’ weapons are words, and he declaims, referring to himself in the third person and adopting an extraordinary mix of the arachaic, the anachronistic, and what he believes to be dialect, to glorious, glorious effect. Miss Roach’s had a friend - the German born, English raised Vicki Kugelman - but she would find that her friend was duplicitous and self-serving, and that she would play up to Mr Thwaites to torment Miss Roach even more. There was verbal warfare in the Rosamund tearooms, warfare as fierce as anything happening in the world beyond. It echoed the war outside, very, very effectively. All of this sounds bleak, and yes it is, but it is made palatable by vivid prose, acute observation, and brilliant characterisation. There’s a thread of dark humour, that I can’t quite pick out but I know that it must be there for this book to be as effective as it is. And Miss Roach was a heroine worth holding on to, a quiet, intelligent decent woman. She hung on, holding her position under fire, while others crept around. Something had to break … I’d love to say more but I won’t – actually I can’t – because it is the finest details that make this story sing. It read beautifully, and it played out perfectly.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Nick Hornby kind of hits the nail on the head with his blurb, that if you wanted to connect Dickens to Martin Amis with only one author Patrick Hamilton would be your author. This has the great characterizations of Dickens but the nastiness (moral depravity?, neither of these words is quite right, oh well) of M. Amis. This book is really close to being great, but there is something missing in it. Maybe it needed a little more to the story, maybe the German woman needed to be shown at least once Nick Hornby kind of hits the nail on the head with his blurb, that if you wanted to connect Dickens to Martin Amis with only one author Patrick Hamilton would be your author. This has the great characterizations of Dickens but the nastiness (moral depravity?, neither of these words is quite right, oh well) of M. Amis. This book is really close to being great, but there is something missing in it. Maybe it needed a little more to the story, maybe the German woman needed to be shown at least once from the same detached viewpoint that the reader gets to see all of the other characters from at least once. I'm not complaining or anything, the book was very very good, but just that tad bit unsatisfying. Sort of like Christmas usually is, and this book has a great Christmas scene in it. Hamilton really does not seem to have much use for the holiday celebrating the birth of baby Jesus.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Toby

    It's a well worn phrase in reviews of Slaves of Solitude but I've never read anything quite like it either I'm afraid. This honest appraisal of life during wartime in Little Britain is shorn of all that saccharine "roll out the barrels' we're all in this together stuff that typifies the conversation about Londoners in the conflict with the Nasties and is all the more powerful and important for it. Apparently written, in the most part, in a partial drunken stupor from his bed in his own Thames Lo It's a well worn phrase in reviews of Slaves of Solitude but I've never read anything quite like it either I'm afraid. This honest appraisal of life during wartime in Little Britain is shorn of all that saccharine "roll out the barrels' we're all in this together stuff that typifies the conversation about Londoners in the conflict with the Nasties and is all the more powerful and important for it. Apparently written, in the most part, in a partial drunken stupor from his bed in his own Thames Lockdon during the last two years of the war it offers a fictionalised first hand account of the oppresive nature of too many bodies sharing too small a space, Hamilton being the great chronicler of the working classes of the period preferring to highlight the meanness that people allowed to creep in to their lives and the general air of hopelessness that permeated their existence, if it wasn't the blitz that was going to kill them out there, away from the city itself, then it was going to be the boredom and each other and the inexorable slide towards penury bought about by a general lack of any other option as the war effort took away more and more of what made people live and not just exist. It really is a stunning impression that he makes, but all of that is background to the story of quiet, solitary, thoughtful and lacking confidence in herself Mary Roach, spinster in a boarding house, chief target for the boarding house bully, septuagenarian, Mr Thwaites. Their story, their interactions, their subsistence, is littered with barely hidden menace, a constant hinting that one or both of them will come to a dark a despicable end. Told primarily from the point of view of Miss Roach, you are instinctively empathising with the poor harrassed flower, Hamilton provides so much ammunition that you feel her despair, her fury, her confusion with every new abuse and you long for change but fear the worse. The outcome is worth the wait as the storm clears and you finally comprehend the truth behind the story you've just read. Patrick Hamilton was a very talented writer of despair and realistic depictions of the humdrum every day nature of the world around him, there's something more immediate here than Dickens but not quite so abrasive as what would come later. I can't recommend him highly enough for brave readers looking to expand in to post war British literature.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This excellent novel is set within the confines of a boarding house in the fictional location of Thames Lockdon; said to be on the river and some miles beyond Maidenhead. It is December 1943 and Miss Enid Roach, a spinster in her late thirties, has been living in the Rosamund Tea Rooms for a year after being bombed out of her flat in London. Miss Roach is a gentle, kind woman, whose initial thankfulness at finding a safe place to live has turned into a living 'hell'. Patrick Hamilton does a wonde This excellent novel is set within the confines of a boarding house in the fictional location of Thames Lockdon; said to be on the river and some miles beyond Maidenhead. It is December 1943 and Miss Enid Roach, a spinster in her late thirties, has been living in the Rosamund Tea Rooms for a year after being bombed out of her flat in London. Miss Roach is a gentle, kind woman, whose initial thankfulness at finding a safe place to live has turned into a living 'hell'. Patrick Hamilton does a wonderful job of showing us how besieged Miss Roach has become. Surrounded by notes pinned up in the boarding house about the lights and the water and the use of electricity, by notices outside with more orders and warnings, by the darkness of the blackout and the lack of anything in the shops, by restrictions and crowds and war, she is suffering the effects of years of wartime Britain. Small things make life worthwhile - her job in the city, which gets her out of the house, and 'her' American, Lieutenant Dayton Pike, who brings a little excitement into her life. However, the war outside the boarding house is brought inside, by both Miss Roach's 'friend' the odious German girl Vicki and by the almost comic bully, Mr Thwaites, who makes her mealtimes a misery. As Christmas approaches, and the residents of the Rosamund Tea Rooms battle their little failures and isolation, there is a 'war to the death' between Miss Roach and Vicki. The author creates a perfect little world in the inhabitants of the boarding house. Mealtimes are almost painful to read about, with Mr Thwaites holding court (who has not met a Mr Thwaites in their life?!) and Vicki's spiteful behaviour. The verbal attacks in the dining room, the actor who longs for another chance, the elderly ladies who do their best to protect Miss Roach, vicous innuendo and the level of drunken behaviour by Lieutenant Pike, all combine in a novel that leaves you feeling profoundly moved by the last page. I have never read anything by Patrick Hamilton before, but I am glad I have discovered his work.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer (aka EM)

    An interesting read after Brooklyn. The Slaves of Solitude (I just wrote that as "salves" of solitude, which would be a very different thing, wouldn't it?) - anyhoo - Miss Roach and TSoS's boarding house are in many ways (but not all ways) polar opposites of Eilis Lacey and her Brooklyn abode, and yet the experience with the one plays really nicely off of the other. I take note of this weird alchemy that occurs as books go from my to-read to my currently-reading list, because it's been happening An interesting read after Brooklyn. The Slaves of Solitude (I just wrote that as "salves" of solitude, which would be a very different thing, wouldn't it?) - anyhoo - Miss Roach and TSoS's boarding house are in many ways (but not all ways) polar opposites of Eilis Lacey and her Brooklyn abode, and yet the experience with the one plays really nicely off of the other. I take note of this weird alchemy that occurs as books go from my to-read to my currently-reading list, because it's been happening to me all year. Another example is going from The Lonely Polygamist's exquisitely-rendered Rusty to Skippy Dies' equally exquisite Ruprecht van Doren - characters of about the same age and of the same geeky outcast-edness; with the same angst and, to me at least, the same huge empathic appeal. Neither was the central character of his respective novel; neither was I expecting to meet and love as I did. Yet there it is. THEN: from Skippy Dies to Cat's Eye - now, here's a little goodreads trivia question for those of you playing the home game. What weird filament of theme/motif unites THESE two? Hint: the very first sentence/page of Cat's Eye. "Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backwards in time and exist in two places at once. ...I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another." Please now to see my review of Skippy Dies written well before I even picked up CE. HOW FREAKY IS THAT?? (and I swear, while I had read Cat's Eye many many years ago, I did not recall AT ALL the theme of time/space/string theory in it. Hell, I barely remembered the central story line.) @karen: this is what I thought you meant by a 'reading path.' And what does this have to do with The Slaves of Solitude? Well, pretty much nothing, except to say that TSoS comes toward the end of a long string of reading, and seems to pull together about a gagillion themes that, I now see, are pretty much constants for me. I seem to be consciously and sub-consciously gravitating towards them: - war - loneliness - characters who are misfits or victims of cruelty - repressed emotion - individual change mirroring or foreshadowing societal change The only thing NOT present here in TSoS is spiritual crisis (not a priest to be found anywhere) - although as David Lodge points out in his introduction, the book does end with an uncharacteristic, but entirely fitting, prayer. Ok, so this review is a rambling mess of disconnectedness, which is exactly as it should be. So here's why you should read The Salves of Solitude (see, I did it again!): War. The book takes place at the height of WWII in England, and renders the impact of war, its deprivations and influence on peoples' behaviour, viscerally. Loneliness. This is now going at the very TOP of my Lonely Hearts Club shelf - it's an exquisite portrayal of a whole gaggle of people trapped in themselves. It's painful, painful, painful to read and watch - but (view spoiler)[hold out, because there are several moments of triumph at the end (hide spoiler)] . Misfits, victims of cruelty. Miss Roach is such a great portrayal of a naive "spinster" - god, how I hate that word - yet one who is also strangely and acutely aware of her own naivety so as to counteract it. I'm not sure how to explain this - but she strikes me as very psychologically similar to Eilis Lacey in Brooklyn; but one whose outcome is much less clear. The ambiguity of this book's ending is exceptional! Fabulous! Readers, impose your own meaning on it..... Also, cf: Margaret Laurence's A Jest of God -- if you have not read this, but have read TSoS and loved it, you MUST read AJoG. MUST. Repressed emotion. Here's where the twisting knife of tension and release comes in for me with books like this - that thing I look for, that thing that has my teeth set on edge as I wait, wait, wait for the character development to occur and wonder if it will. And sometimes it does. And sometimes, it doesn't (see, The Remains of the Day). But in either case, the artistry with which this inner conflict is portrayed, when done well, never ever ever fails to be satisfying to me. Individual change mirroring societal change. Slightly tougher to find as a theme (?) -- although I'd be very interested in more of this ilk -- but I'll point to Mrs. Dalloway as the premiere example and best comparable. TSoS is what happened to the ones who weren't invited to the dinner party, but made it through the war to find themselves in seriously compromised positions, without fortune, fame or connections to anchor them to their former class. Commonality of setting, and - to a very minor extent - the inner monologue. And one more thing, again as pointed out in the introduction, this novel defies classification. Written in 1947, it's neither modern nor post-modern; and is, it would appear, a one-hit wonder. But a wonder it is, and it should be read, esp. if any of the comparisons are your bag. (oh, one more: The Lost Garden.)

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Perfect opening paragraph for a London novelist and a flawless, Dickensian conclusion. Absolutely brilliant. And in between, we have the forlorn story of Miss Roach, a spinster (who ”was only thirty-nine, but might have been taken for forty-five”) in a Henley-on-Thames boarding house (”with pink wall-paper, which bore the mottled pattern of a disease of the flesh”) eating wartime dinners (”warm spam and mashed potatoes”) in the company of the odious, bullying Mr Thwaites (the ”president in hell” Perfect opening paragraph for a London novelist and a flawless, Dickensian conclusion. Absolutely brilliant. And in between, we have the forlorn story of Miss Roach, a spinster (who ”was only thirty-nine, but might have been taken for forty-five”) in a Henley-on-Thames boarding house (”with pink wall-paper, which bore the mottled pattern of a disease of the flesh”) eating wartime dinners (”warm spam and mashed potatoes”) in the company of the odious, bullying Mr Thwaites (the ”president in hell”). The town is grim, the boarding house is grim, the wartime shortages are grim, the people are grim – even the weather is grim. It’s a wonderfully bleak vision of the land of "death-in-life", where Patrick Hamilton’s gift for mildly unsettling characters, displayed in his earlier Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, is given full rein. And yet it’s quite funny, in a miserable sort of way, and entirely compelling. Then there are those extraordinary last few lines... Wonderful writer.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    The only thing a boarding house can't tell you about human nature is what it's like to have a helluva lot of money. But it can tell you everything else, and will, whether you want to know or not. Patrick Hamilton has such an excellent boarding house reach, the Rosamund Tea Rooms even tell us a thing or two about the war. There's one going on between Mr. Thwaites, an old bully who has it in for the spinster of the species, and Miss Roach, who just might be one. From there on it's pure boarding ho The only thing a boarding house can't tell you about human nature is what it's like to have a helluva lot of money. But it can tell you everything else, and will, whether you want to know or not. Patrick Hamilton has such an excellent boarding house reach, the Rosamund Tea Rooms even tell us a thing or two about the war. There's one going on between Mr. Thwaites, an old bully who has it in for the spinster of the species, and Miss Roach, who just might be one. From there on it's pure boarding house. The centre of the other war is going on elsewhere. London. Berlin. I liked the way Hamilton had it sneaking around the edges of the bigger war going on in the boarding house. It is elsewhere stealing light at night, and sugar, and the wider world. There is a wonderful scene where Miss Roach, out with the American Lieutenant (he has a habit of asking women to marry him over whisky) in a carload of drinkers, imagines other cars all over England full of people getting tight and rumbling around to forget what is impossible to forget except in cars full of drunk people. Miss Roach often expresses this awareness she has of living a different, temporary life. And that reminded me how we all get fooled into thinking that we're living some kind of anomalous, temporary life when the whole time this is the one. It really is the one. Bravo Patrick Hamilton.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jana

    Sooooo satisfying. I really enjoyed this one. * Maybe some of the best dialogue (internal and external) I've read in a long while. * I have a thing for WWII settings. This one mostly takes place in a boarding house outside of London, with some London scenes as well. * Great characters. Miss Roach was wonderful company throughout. I would like to have a gin and French with her any day! * The physical nyrb edition is an added plus. In my dream library I'd have 100s of these lovelies together and th Sooooo satisfying. I really enjoyed this one. * Maybe some of the best dialogue (internal and external) I've read in a long while. * I have a thing for WWII settings. This one mostly takes place in a boarding house outside of London, with some London scenes as well. * Great characters. Miss Roach was wonderful company throughout. I would like to have a gin and French with her any day! * The physical nyrb edition is an added plus. In my dream library I'd have 100s of these lovelies together and the orange Penguin editions in another. (Dream on!) Enthusiastically recommend. Thank you Chris for bringing this one to my attention (with an article from the Barbara Pym fan club recommending this for fans of Pym. And who isn't? ;-)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

    4.5 The protagonist, Miss Roach, is stuck living in a rather dingy boardinghouse during WWII, with other spinsters and the old bully Mr Thwaite, who provides unusual comic relief with his own silly parodies meant to annoy Miss Roach in particular. Lt. Pike, the American soldier who tries to court her in a pretty juvenile way, must surely be younger than her 40ish self. It is a snapshot of a unique historical moment, told very well. Years ago, I saw and then read his trilogy “The Charmer” and am 4.5 The protagonist, Miss Roach, is stuck living in a rather dingy boardinghouse during WWII, with other spinsters and the old bully Mr Thwaite, who provides unusual comic relief with his own silly parodies meant to annoy Miss Roach in particular. Lt. Pike, the American soldier who tries to court her in a pretty juvenile way, must surely be younger than her 40ish self. It is a snapshot of a unique historical moment, told very well. Years ago, I saw and then read his trilogy “The Charmer” and am glad to find this. Hangover Square awaits.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    Full of bullying and boozing, The Slaves of Solitude is nonetheless a comedy, mostly, and its villains end up being fairly harmless, unlike the ones in Hamilton's masterpiece Hangover Square. Slaves takes place in the claustrophobic world of a suburban London boarding house during the Second World War. Its residents, unmarried, shabby-genteel, struggle to hold on to whatever shreds of privacy their rooms provide. Down in the dining room, their business becomes everyone else's, and bullies hog an Full of bullying and boozing, The Slaves of Solitude is nonetheless a comedy, mostly, and its villains end up being fairly harmless, unlike the ones in Hamilton's masterpiece Hangover Square. Slaves takes place in the claustrophobic world of a suburban London boarding house during the Second World War. Its residents, unmarried, shabby-genteel, struggle to hold on to whatever shreds of privacy their rooms provide. Down in the dining room, their business becomes everyone else's, and bullies hog and direct the mealtime conversations. The protagonist, timid Miss Roach, despairs of ever escaping the annoying Mr. Thwaites's orbit. A rescuer seems to take shape in the form of an American lieutenant, Dayton Pike, who courts Miss Roach. But then an acquaintance of Miss Roach, the originally-German Vicki Kugelmann, moves into the boarding house, upending relationships and sowing torment. Hamilton's writerly talents are enormous. Here's his opening paragraph: London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels. (This brought to mind E.M. Forster's famous passage in Howards End: "Like many others who have lived long in a great capital, she had strong feelings about the various railway termini. They are our gates to the glorious and the unknown. Through them we pass out into adventure and sunshine, to them, alas! we return....") Here he describes the morning stirring-to-life of the boarding house: There is an air of debauch about tossed bed-clothes, stale air, cold hot-water bottles, and last night's cast-off clothing, from which even the primmest of maiden ladies cannot hope to escape. Sleep is gross, a form of abandonment, and it is impossible for anyone to awake and observe its sordid consequences save with a faint sense of recent dissipation, of minute personal disquiet and remorse. This perception, on the part of the guest, of his animal self, was made even more dreary by certain impressions which were now wafted towards him of the coarser bedroom selves of his fellow-guests. These impressions were conveyed to him in partially ghostly and mysterious ways - in the uncanny gurgling and throbbing of unlocated water-pipes, which seemed softly and eerily to answer each other all over the house: in the sound of unidentified windows shrieking open or being slammed shut: in sudden furious rushes of water from taps into basins: in the sound of bumps, and of thuds: of tooth-glasses being rattled with tooth-brushes, and of expectorations: of coughs, and stupendous throat-clearings: of noses being blown: even of actual groans. To listen carefully to these noises was to sense a peculiar intensity in the bedroom life of the boarders: it was as if they were taking advantage of their brief privacy to serve too eagerly the physical compulsions of life. Here, he tries hilarity: Was she not, on the other hand, when you came to think of it, exquisitely Nazi, exquisitely Hitler, exquisitely everything of that sort? ... Was not the period when Vicki was sucking up to her, trying to get into the Rosamund Tea Rooms, posing as a delightful friend - was not this period the Ribbentrop one, nauseatingly Ribbentroppish through and through? And making, like Ribbentrop, gross Ribbentroppish mistakes? - offending the friend she sought to make by the clumsiness of her idiom and manner of thoughts, exposing the beastliness in a multitude of ways, in her reluctance to pay for drinks, in turning up late without making proper apologies, in going to Mrs. Payne behind Miss Roach's back, and so on and so forth? And let's face it, this is just the straight-up truth: There were, she knew, many total non-combatants who thought about, talked about, and took an intense interest in the war. There was, furthermore, still quite a large percentage of non-combatants who were enormously enjoying the war. Mr. Thwaites, for instance, if it had not been for the shortage of food and the personal bother he was having with the Russians, would have been adoring the war. Even in spite of the food and the Russians he was still liking it quite a lot. It is difficult to keep a good war-liker down. There is delicious and admirable Christmas-hating (alert Fox News!): So thoroughly had the evil and madness of Christmas permeated herself and the atmosphere that it never even crossed her mind that there was any impropriety of any sort in inviting a man into her bedroom for a talk. Enjoyable mockery of Wilkes Barre, PA: The drinking probably accounted for his inconsequence, and back home, in Wilkes Barre or whatever it was, he was no doubt a normal and excellent citizen.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lorenzo Berardi

    It seems like I became pretty hopeless in writing my book reviews in the last days. It could be this persistent headache I feel from early morning till late evening. It could be boredom. It could be me. The problem is that now I know that I will not be able to do this novel any justice. And that's a pity, as no one like Patrick Hamilton would deserve to get a good review. Time could be such an unforgiving beast. And what time does to magnificent but ill-preserved books, yellowing their pages, pil It seems like I became pretty hopeless in writing my book reviews in the last days. It could be this persistent headache I feel from early morning till late evening. It could be boredom. It could be me. The problem is that now I know that I will not be able to do this novel any justice. And that's a pity, as no one like Patrick Hamilton would deserve to get a good review. Time could be such an unforgiving beast. And what time does to magnificent but ill-preserved books, yellowing their pages, piling dust on their covers, weakening their binding, fading printed words could sometimes happen to worthy authors (and bored head-ached reviewers too!). Just like it happened with Mr Hamilton. For twenty years, between the 1930s and the 1950s, Patrick Hamilton was a hit, probably a minor hit, but still a rather successful novelist as well as a respected playwright (no less than Alfred Hitchcock made a movie out of one of his plays). But Mr Hamilton kept himself ill-preserved over-indulging in alcohol thereby being at mercy of time. The beast bit him straight shortening his life and then in a more subtle but equally painful way gnawing out Patrick Hamilton's popularity. The result of this erosion by time is that nowadays who really knows about Mr Hamilton among non-compulsive readers? Sure, the period and people he wrote about - England before and after World War Two & office clerks, retired ladies and pub-goers - could be blamed: but then again, how would you explain the success still experienced by authors like, say, George Orwell and Graham Greene who played in the same court? True, while Orwell and Greene managed to diversify their literary production setting their novels as far as Burma and Vietnam, Hamilton's exoticism never went farther than Brighton and the Thames valley. But I'm afraid that it's mostly the reputation of drunkard gained by middle-aged Hamilton which cut him off from posthumous rediscovery. All this preamble to say that "Slaves of Solitude" is one of those little gems one should be aware of, especially if born and bred in the UK or having had the chance to live there for a while. There were many times while reading this book in which I thought that the fictional town of Thames Lockdon was the same Abingdon (now Abingdon-on-Thames) where I have been living in the last two years. But Wikipedia told me that I was wrong: it's actually Henley-on-Thames. For what it matters. What is astonishing in this book is the ability of Hamilton to look into the lives of ordinary people caught in an extra-ordinary contest, having been forced to leave London during the Blitz to find shelter in a boarding house in a dull small town along the Thames. It's the capacity of putting himself in the shoes of unattractive spinsters beyond their prime, boastful retired men, idle American GIs reflecting their interactions in the microcosm of a small nosy town which impressed me the most here. That and some hilarious literary inventions like the Bible-Chauceresque Troth language spoken by an old odd self-proclaimed gentleman and the depth level of introspection reached in unlucky-named Miss Roach, a rather atypical heroine. And even though the finale of this novel is all but grand, but quite disappointing the characters and the atmosphere I found in "The Slaves of Solitude" will never be forgotten.

  27. 5 out of 5

    David

    Here’s a buried treasure restored to the light of day. Hamilton, who is best known these days for one of the great drinking books, Hangover Square, wrote The Slaves of Solitude some years later on the other side of the War, and brings a more measured, benevolent sensibility to the book, as well as a far more sympathetic and sober heroine in the decent, oft bewildered Miss Roach. Not that there’s a dearth of drinking, especially at the hands of an American Lieutenant stationed in a London suburb Here’s a buried treasure restored to the light of day. Hamilton, who is best known these days for one of the great drinking books, Hangover Square, wrote The Slaves of Solitude some years later on the other side of the War, and brings a more measured, benevolent sensibility to the book, as well as a far more sympathetic and sober heroine in the decent, oft bewildered Miss Roach. Not that there’s a dearth of drinking, especially at the hands of an American Lieutenant stationed in a London suburb in 1943, where he brashly courts Miss Roach with disarming, good-natured ham-handed vigor. The principle arena of the book is the boarding house where Roach and her fellow boarders are nightly subjected to the spectacular boorishness of Mr. Thwaites, a devastating literary creation that had me wincing and gasping as I might over the jaw-dropping sallies of Borat, or of Ricky Gervaise in the original British version of ‘The Office.’ A thoroughgoing comic monster worthy of Dickens, he is joined by the German immigrant Vickie Kugelmann in waging an insidious war of words and slights upon poor Miss Roach. Hamilton writes like a dream, with a rare psychological insight and an intense relish for tying flesh and blood characters into knots of their own devising. His dialogue is word perfect and brilliantly, fully realized – at one point I dissolved into gales over a perfectly placed line that simply read “Oh…… Oh!…… Oh!” There may be parallels and echoes of the global situation to be teased out of the work, and Hamilton beautifully conveys the deprivations of beleaguered Britain growing shabbier and more threadbare by the day, but the book’s real genius lies in moments of defeat, discovery and triumph which spring to vivid life after sixty years of obscurity. This is a true classic, a great introduction to Hamilton, and a delicious read for anyone who enjoys a comedy of manners. A sheer joy, and now one of my new all time favorites.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Eileen

    If you're interested in social history of Britain in WWII, this is an excellent novel. When I say "social history", though, understand that it is social. This is a book about people and their behavior during a particular wartime, in a particular country. While the awareness of war suffuses the characters and affects their lives profoundly, the story is not about World War II. That said, I think this is a pretty great book, and not just because I'm interested in the social history. It's one of the If you're interested in social history of Britain in WWII, this is an excellent novel. When I say "social history", though, understand that it is social. This is a book about people and their behavior during a particular wartime, in a particular country. While the awareness of war suffuses the characters and affects their lives profoundly, the story is not about World War II. That said, I think this is a pretty great book, and not just because I'm interested in the social history. It's one of the more successful character-based novels I've read in a long time. Synopsis: Miss Roach, having been bombed out of London, lives in a horrible boarding house in the village of Thames Lockdon (a nice, understated symbolic name, since it's definitely locked down in a number of ways). The boarding house is dominated by Mr. Thwaites, who keeps Miss Roach under continual verbal assault, apparently just for a sense of small, useless power. So Miss Roach hopes for a positive change when an American lieutenant and a new acquaintance, Vicky Kugelmann, enter the boarding house circle. The descriptive passages throughout the novel are strongly evocative. I have no trouble believing in the antiquated, decaying facades, the mismatched furniture, and the cheerless decor of Thames Lockdon. The sense of endless pressure, caused by these surroundings, social expectations, and the awareness of war, is the key not only to a sense of stultifying immobility, under which the characters feel they must Endure, as well as a need to lash out into unconventional or even scandalous behavior. Even Miss Roach, a fairly conservative, intelligent character, is affected. The ensuing situation eventually leads her to react in a new and liberating way. Miss Roach actually changes.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Josh Friedlander

    There's some ineffable difference between the UK and US versions of The Office. In both the humour is in the almost unbearable cringe-inducing awkwardness, but there's still something a little sunnier about the American version. It's as if both shows have the same message, the dullness of office life is a horrifying and inescapable prison, but in the US it's a comic message, in the UK tragic. I thought about this distinction while reading this book which similarly skates on the border between psy There's some ineffable difference between the UK and US versions of The Office. In both the humour is in the almost unbearable cringe-inducing awkwardness, but there's still something a little sunnier about the American version. It's as if both shows have the same message, the dullness of office life is a horrifying and inescapable prison, but in the US it's a comic message, in the UK tragic. I thought about this distinction while reading this book which similarly skates on the border between psychological drama and dark comedy. It has much in common with Philip Larkin's early novel A Girl in Winter: both are written in a clean and modern vernacular; both novels of civilians in the gloom of Second World War England, witnessing major upheavals in cultural norms; both involving Continental transplants, narrated by strong female characters trying to parse the cryptic, laconic nature of English social life, incisively but with mixed results. The book is partly about bullies, and how their power exists in local bubbles; exposed to the wider world they are generally shown to be insecure and psychologically stunted. (Except when occasionally they go on to be elected president in the US.) The book's closing paragraph (no spoilers) implies that all of the characters, not just the hero, are slaves to their solitude; only their geographical isolation and inability to communicate among themselves imprison them in unhappy stasis. I listened to the audiobook version superbly narrated by Lucy Scott. In the course of the book I encountered several words I had to look up - farrago, propinquity, descant - and looked to append them to a list I keep of such things, only to find them already present.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Doreen

    Hamilton does so much well in this novel that it's hard to believe it is not more well-known or that it hasn't been made into a BBC mini-series. In some ways, my other favorite British WWII writer, Olivia Manning, falls into the same category of a sleeper novelist, someone who didn't produced much but should be known for what he/she has written. for one, Hamilton captures the horrors of urban and suburban life in 1940s England. In an attempt to escape the blitz, a very real indisputable horror, Hamilton does so much well in this novel that it's hard to believe it is not more well-known or that it hasn't been made into a BBC mini-series. In some ways, my other favorite British WWII writer, Olivia Manning, falls into the same category of a sleeper novelist, someone who didn't produced much but should be known for what he/she has written. for one, Hamilton captures the horrors of urban and suburban life in 1940s England. In an attempt to escape the blitz, a very real indisputable horror, the cast of characters exiled from the city must succumb to the dull humdrum of lower middle class life in a boarding house in Thames Lockdon, a dreary home county town along the river. Psychically defeated already by a war that has gone on forever, resulting in harsh regulations during the black-out, including reduced lighting, limited food rations, limited pub hours (this was when pubs started closing midway through the afternoon until tea time), and even being chastised for going to a restaurant that might be black marketing meat (as Miss Roach is by Mr. Thwaites, a boarding house bully who steamrolls Miss Roach every chance he can), now these Brits are forced to endure each other's neuroses with a stiff upper lip. Interestingly while strict laws in England at the time mandated certain kinds of proper war-time behavior, other social rules seem to have been lessened. For example, the women in this novel have a certain freedom to go to pubs and drink on their own, to go out with American GI's, to have quasi-professional jobs, etc. as represented by Miss Roach who is 39, definitely not youthful but very much single and probably on her way to being a spinster. One can see how Hamilton was a successful dramatist as this novel's plot is hinged on the constant interaction among the boarding house members and attempts to escape it, particularly by Miss Roach. But the only place to escape to is the darkness outside, the river that skirts through the town, and a few public houses. The confining atmosphere is much like Sartre's No Exit where hell becomes other people. Even the American GI Miss Roach hooks up with most likely to escape the hazing by Mr. thwaites and the ennui of the boarding house residents, has such glaring faults that he injects only more anxiety into an already anxiety-ridden situation. But we feel for Miss Roach and we too given the circumstances would rather put up with a loquacious annoying American than be subjected to the coffin-like atmosphere of boarding house life. However, this repressed atmosphere becomes the theatre of war so to speak as personalities clash, sides are taken, and resolutions to these conflicts are deferred until the next meal time. Hamilton has an amazing alacrity of style that while probing the dreariness of these people's lives constantly engages us in the macro dramas that make up their internal and external lives. His sense of narrative timing, his ability to manipulate point of view, and his sentence style all work to entrench the reader, even drench us at times, in the emotional landscape that is war time Britain. But it's not sentimental in the least; in fact these characters are often held at a telescopic distance so that we see them as oddly endearing creatures with all of their foibles. His masterful use of point of view, moving from limited 3rd person to omniscience seamlessly, allows us both to judge and identity with these characters. Especially so when it comes to Miss Roach, who is a bundle of nerves at times attempting to navigate these treacherous social binds she finds herself, obligated by her own social etiquette and sense of right/wrong behavior but who is trying to also resist these social norms. There is an inertia in all of these characters that is anathema to the pull 'em up by your bootstraps American ideology so that at times one wants to kick them in the butt and say, come on, get a move on. You don't have to just sit and take it. And so it is that when Miss Roach finally does take action, we breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that she does in fact have limits to what she can take and that she has agency, an ability to change her circumstances and not go along passively. It is at the level of the sentence where much of the emotional range of the characters and the moral outrage that Miss Roach feels take place. Hamilton delicately engineers sentences so that they build toward a denouement while also ranging through an assortment of emotions taking places inside the characters that for the most part cannot be shown to the outside world. Some might think his sentence style overwrought but it captures a certain kind of frenetic quality, an instability entwined with boredom and yearning. So much of the novel takes place insider Miss Roach's head but just when we're not expecting it, an omniscient narrator appears with some sweeping statement that is an interpretation of Miss Roach, wartime England, or stems from the point of view of a minor character. Hamilton takes risks with the narration and in doing so his prose is exciting and evocative, his characters, regardless of whether they fill you with loathing or charitableness, are memorable.

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