Patrick Hamilton, The Slaves of Solitude (1947)
Patrick Hamilton is the great forgotten man of 1930s and 1940s fiction. Hamilton's maybe best known nowadays for the films of his novels and plays - Gaslight with Anton Walbrook, and Hitchcock's experimental film Rope. His prose is assured and impressive, but his novels are about the dark lonely corners of pre and post war London. Hangover Square (1941), generally considered his masterpiece, concerns the grey world of a down at heel borderline alcoholic whose destructive drinking and obsessive relationships combine to fray his fragile hold upon reality. In Hangover Square Hamilton painted London with all its malevolence and seedy dinginess, but it is in the slightly later Slaves of Solitude, set in the commuter town of Thames Lockton (essentially Henley), that he really captures the horror and bleakness of life in the 1940s. Hamilton's protagonists are fearful and anxious, worried and worked upon. Here is a taste of his cynicism from The Slaves of Solitude: ‘When he at last came out the other elderly guests were already setting about their business - the business, that is to say, of those who in fact had no business on this earth save that of cautiously steering their respective failing bodies along paths free from discomfort and illness in the direction of the final illness which would exterminate them’. The novel explores the isolation and horror of suburbia, focussing on the alienation of contemporary society and the enervating effects of loneliness. The Slaves of Solitude is not an easy book, encompassing small minded racism, social bullying and desperation, but it is a precise, nasty piece of work – a vicious gem. The suburbs of London are pointless, bleak, dull places with little excitement or sympathy.