The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

I’m still stuck in World War 2 but this time it’s a fictional book, The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton was first published in 1947 and if you enjoy a World War 2 English setting then you’ll love this one.

Miss Roach is a rather lonely woman in her late thirties, she’s a reader at a firm of publishers and like many people she has been bombed out of her home in London so she has taken up home in a suburban boarding house in Thames Lockdon (Henley-on-Thames) and she is having to commute into the city every day by train.

The boarding house is populated by single people all older than Miss Roach, the women are of the genteel variety, but it’s Mr Thwaites who is a thorn in Miss Roach’s flesh. Thwaites is an elderly man who gets his kicks picking on Miss Roach at every opportunity, usually at meal times. He’s a bully and a buffoon and Miss Roach dreads mealtimes, but when an American serviceman comes into her life things seem to look up a bit.

There seems to have been quite a fashion for books with a wartime boarding house setting, I suppose it was a new experience for strangers to be thrown together as they were and as such it was a rich source of copy.

I have a confession to make – this was actually a re-read for me, but it was a long time before I realised that! It seems that I read it way back in 2011 and during this re-read I kept thinking I’m sure this must have been made into a film, because it seems so familiar. But at no point did I think I had already read it – until I got almost right to the end – honestly – what am I like?!

Anyway, I still enjoyed it and if you’re interested in what I said about it in 2011 you can read that post here

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.

Pardon My French

Je suis bloody well fed up! For one thing it has been raining all day and it feels more like November than June, so we’ve been stuck in the house. I wonder which is worse, being stuck indoors because it’s cold and miserable or not being able to go out because it’s inhumanely hot? I’m not likely to find out anyway.

Apart from that the book that I started yesterday has turned out to be one of the very few that I’ve given up on. I usually struggle on with books and sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised at the end of them. Other times I just harrumph all the way through and at the end turn it around to look at the front cover, I think I probably have a sort of I’ll know you next time and you’ll never darken my door again look on my face.

Anyway, what with the weather and everything I can’t be doing with that sort of book so I’m ‘shelving’ Margaret Forster’s Diary of an Ordinary Woman at the moment. I’ll go back to it if someone can tell me that it’s worthwhile ploughing on with it. I bought it at the last library book sale.

When I read the introduction I really didn’t like the idea of it at all because it’s a fictional diary purporting to be a real one which was written by a woman who was born in 1901 and she is now 98 years old. Forster even has the fictional woman telling her that she told no lies in her diary – but it’s fiction.

I reached page 87 and so far the whole thing just seems implausible to me. Firstly the diary writer, Millicent is one of a family of seven children, she is the third one and we are supposed to believe that she was allowed to go to teacher training college after leaving school. Considering that the family is not a very wealthy one, the father has some sort of furniture making/selling business which isn’t doing all that well because of the Great War, I seriously doubt if any daughter would even have been allowed to stay on at school past the age of 14. She would have been expected to help with the family budget and would almost certainly have had to work in her father’s shop for pocket money only.

There is an even more unlikely happening involving the mother of the family later on and I can’t suspend my disbelief any more. I also think that it’s the sort of book which could be written by just about anybody who has read a few books and is interested in writing. They’d probably make a better job of it too.

Anyway, grump over.

I’m just starting Patrick Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude. I have high hopes.