A brooding, alcohol-soaked masterpiece
I was first alerted to Patrick Hamilton’s dark, unsettling novel, Hangover Square (first published in 1941), by a piece Nick Hornby wrote (the piece was later part of the collection of his columns published as The Complete Polysyllabic Spree).
On the back cover of the Penguin Modern Classics edition I found in the new Landmark store in Mumbai, Keith Waterhouse calls it a “masterly novel”. Seeing that, and remembering Hornby’s endorsement, something fell into place even before I’d read a page: Both Hornby and Waterhouse are magnificent chroniclers of obsession (think of Fever Pitch and Our Song), and I realized that obsession (almost neurotic obsession) would be the engine of Hangover Square.
It was. Set in 1939 in a London that is on the brink of World War II, the novel is an account of one man’s deep desire for and hopeless fixation with a small-time actress. Sodden in drink, filled with brooding menace, cruelty and lots of heartbreak and humiliation, it shows what one can visit upon oneself if one lets oneself go too far in matters of the heart.
In his introduction for this edition, JB Priestley describes Hamilton as “uniquely individual… He is the novelist of innocence, appallingly vulnerable, and of malevolence, coming out of some mysterious darkness of evil.”
If that sort of writing is your sort of reading (it is mine), go for Hangover Square.