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Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

Hangover Square

by Patrick Hamilton

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George Harvey Bone has a lot of problems. He doesn’t have a job, and he is living on the remains of a small inheritance and a birthday gift from his Aunt. He lives in a hotel in Earl’s Court, London, and his only real friend is the hotel’s white cat, who likes to share his bed. The woman he is desperately in love with—Netta—and her friends treat him like dirt and sponge off him. War clouds are hanging in the air—it is 1939—and George has no faith in Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time”. Oh—and one more thing—George frequently lapses into a “dumb” state, where his actions, once he has re-oriented himself to his surroundings, basically proceed on autopilot. In this state, he can remember what has happened to his more normal self, but his more normal self has no knowledge of what occurs during these “dumb” periods. He knows they exist, of course, because people remark on his strange behavior and because there are gaps of time he can’t account for. And the steady drinking to excess, mostly with George paying for Netta and her friends, isn’t helping.

On the other hand, he is an excellent golfer, although as you will see, this may be a mixed blessing.

“Normal” George knows how Netta is treating him, but he continually grasps at any straw, any little gesture or word, to keep hoping that somehow things will change. “Dumb” George, however, has decided to murder Netta. The book follows George as he flips from state to state, and the suspense stems from which personality will win out. Or maybe that isn’t too hard to figure out.

The book features some excellent writing and scene-setting as George and his friends move from Netta’s flat, through the pubs of London, and on to a “memorable” short trip to Brighton. The amount of drinking is something only a noir private eye could match. The indignities against George are maddening—and you may find yourself agreeing with his murderous side.

In the introduction to my Penguin edition, J.B. Priestley calls Hamilton one of the greatest minor novelists—minor because the subject matter of his work is not as broad as that of a “major” novelist. Sadly, I have to disagree with this assessment, at least based on Hangover Square. Despite its passages of great writing and a superior sense of place, the narrative grows repetitious and annoying. Most of the story is told in third person, but it lets us know exactly what both versions of George are thinking. After a while, his excessive self-pity and failure to learn from his mistakes gets wearying. Although this is essential to his “normal” character, it is still a bit excessive. Here, less could have been more. His transitions into his “dumb” state are also too repetitious, as each time he remembers he has to kill Netta, only to take a little while longer to realize that “Netta” by some stroke of luck happens to be the same “Netta” he is about to meet, and, wow, how convenient! The faults of these passages are offset by the strength of other episodes, such as when George is in the company of people who don’t try to take advantage of him every moment, or the scene in Brighton where he remembers that he used to be a good golfer, rents a set of clubs, and shoots a 68.

This mixed review shouldn’t put you off from reading what is one of the most downbeat and harrowing books you will ever encounter. The best comparison I can make is to the downbeat, fatalistic world of the American writer, David Goodis, although Hamilton’s writing is much more literary. Put this on your list of unforgettable, but flawed novels. You’ll be happy to escape from it—but you won’t feel your time was wasted. ( )
  datrappert | Dec 5, 2017 |
Hangover Square Patrick Hamilton

Set in Earls Court London in 1939 this is the story of George Harvey Bone a mild mannered, pathetic drunkard who is obsessed with the beautiful but contemptuous Netta.

George seems to suffer from either split personality disorder or schizophrenia as he has 2 very distinct modes of life which he describes as he brain flicking a switch. In his normal life he is the stooge to Netta and her group of admirers while in his "dead mood" real life becomes like a silent film and George's only purpose is to kill Netta, each life is separate and when inhabiting one he cannot remember the other until late in the book when things begin to cross over.

George is an unlikely character because he is a drunk, because he is desperate for someone to love him and because he allows Netta and her group to walk all over him, however he is more likeable than every other character (with the exception of one) and so as a reader I found myself routing for him to allow the "dead mood" to take control and for Netta to get what is coming to her.
( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
Really wonderful novel. So human, so tragic. For me, not quite as strong as 'Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky', but only because of its smaller scale. ( )
  sometimeunderwater | Dec 29, 2015 |
One of those rares stories that makes you sympathize and scared for the main character. Emotionally gripping and memorable. A great, well-written novel. ( )
  Algybama | Jun 25, 2014 |
Last year when I had no access to my Patrick Hamilton books I suddenly had an urge to re-read HANGOVER SQUARE again. I had a good memory of his other books but all I could remember of this book was the general mood so I re-read it as soon as I could this year.

After a page or two I was back in Hamilton's claustrophobic 1930s world of dingy hotel rooms, bare lightbulbs in overhead light sockets, run-down heels, frayed shirtsleeves and hopeful, hopeless inhabitants.

George Harvey Bone is unemployed and existing in a run-down Earl's Court hotel with only a stray cat for company. He spends his days drifting around the West End and drinking with a handful of acquaintances who hold him in vague contempt. He puts up with the slights if it means he can be close to Netta, the group's tawdry nucleus, a sometime actress. What Bone is sadly aware of is that Netta is an ungrateful user but one day, he is sure she will realize that he truly loves her and stop being beastly to him.

However what the reader knows is that he is an undiagnosed schizophrenic and frequently a 'click' goes off in his head and another Bone exists, existing in a submerged, slow-motion state, with one thought in his mind... to kill Netta.

Hamilton skillfully makes Bone sympathetic despite his many flaws and provides wonderfully drawn characters such as the ghastly ex-soldier Peter who is Bone's main contender for the dubious pleasure of Netta and Johnny, an ex-workmate of Bone who bumps into him in a café and whose renewed friendship provides him with a glimpse of normalcy and in a hotel in Brighton, a moment of supreme one-up-manship over Netta. The character of Netta is also wonderfully realized, a low-rent glamour girl, a tart with a heart of pure flint. One suspects Hamilton writes her while dipping his pen in a well of experience.

Lowering over them all is the threat of European fascism with newsreels and newspapers making all their futures uncertain.

A classic from a criminally under-rated writer. ( )
2 vote Chris_V | May 28, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Patrick Hamiltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Priestley, J.B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Schizophrenia: ... a cleavage of the mental functions, associated with assumption by the affected person of a second personality. -- Black's Medical Dictionary
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Click! ... Here it was again! He was walking along a cliff at Hunstanton and it had come again ... Click! ...
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