The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

This book has been very popular recently in the blogosphere and I know that Anbolyn of Gudrun’s Tights is going to be reading it soon, but when I saw that Karen K of Books and Chocolate had really enjoyed it I had a quick peek at my local library’s catalogue and saw that it was in. I ‘Shanksy’s ponied’ it there and got it out before anybody else could. I have to admit that I skim read Karen’s review just to see if she enjoyed it but I’ve since read it properly and you can read it here, it’s a very good one. I don’t think I can add much to it but I’m just going to give a few of my thoughts a wee bit of an airing.

I’ve been reading a lot of books recently which were written by Scottish/English authors during World War II but as it happens they’ve all been by women writers until now. It really struck me that although Patrick Hamilton has written a really atmospheric novel, portaying the blackout, the grimness of a ghastly boarding house and having to live with people that you would really rather have nothing to do with, he did it with almost no mention of the food and clothes problems. He did mention a shop window which had a sign in it saying that there were no cigarettes. It isn’t until nearly at the very end that rationing is mentioned, as an afterthought almost. There is a passage earlier on in the book about things disappearing from shop shelves, it’s enough I suppose, but women writers were always going on about rationing.

It certainly doesn’t detract from the book but it’s very noticeable that although dinner was always being mentioned, it’s hardly ever described, and I’m left wondering if it’s simply because men left all that sort of worrying about food and clothes coupons to women and wouldn’t lower themselves to think about such things. Or was it because Patrick Hamilton had no interest in food as he was a three bottles of whisky a day alcoholic!

There certainly is a lot of booze in Slaves of Solitude. I suppose that’s one good thing about the production of whisky, it’s such a long slow process that at any time there are years and years of supply of the stuff sitting maturing in barrels and it just depends on how long you want to leave it for. Beer seems to have run out quite a lot though.

Anyway, that’s a Ph.D thesis for someone, but I suppose it’s already been done – the differences between male and female fiction of the war years.

5 thoughts on “The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

  1. My copy is on its way and I am eagerly awaiting it!
    I lived with 5 girls during grad school, strangers who I would never have chosen to live with otherwise, so I know a bit about the strange tension and hostility that can erupt in that situation. Not the happiest two years of my life!
    It’s interesting that you noticed how rationing wasn’t mentioned much – perhaps Hamilton wasn’t concerned with the lack of necessities, though that would make things even MORE interesting in close living quarters!

    • Anbolyn,
      I can imagine it wouldn’t have been fun for you. Laura had to share a kitchen with 5 students and one of them was always stealing food from the fridge!
      I think the only necessity for Hamilton was whisky, in reality he would have eaten very little at all. Imagine if someone nicked your butter/marg ration, I think you were allowed 2 oz a week. People would become quite murderous!
      Even children’s authors were obsessed by food hence all the ‘feasts’ in Blyton and C.S.Lewis who was obviously a man who liked a meal more than the bottle.

  2. I’m so glad you liked it also! I did notice how much drinking was in the book, and I found it rather nauseating. I never thought about the connection between women writers and food but now I’ll definitely pay more attention.

    • Karen,
      There was so much boozing going on I was half-expecting to wake up with a hangover, which I’ve only ever been daft enough to experience once! I’m going to be looking out for more of his books though.

  3. Pingback: The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton | Pining for the West

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