Friday, 14 October 2011

Forgotten Book - Hangover Square


Patrick Hamilton is one of those writers who teetered on the brink of greatness, but never quite made it. He is, however, in the top echelon of literature’s nearly men, hence the intermittent revivals of interest in his work. And there is a modern type of edge to his best books that has helped to cement his reputation.

Hangover Square, published in 1941, is my choice this week as a Forgotten Book that deserves to be remembered. It is the story of George Harvey Bone, a burly but quiet man who is undone by his passion for the worthless Netta. An alcoholic who suffers from a touch of schizophrenia, he torments himself so much that the reader almost forgives him both his stupidity (Netta clearly wasn’t worth it, as his smarter friends instantly recognise) and his homicidal tendencies.

My copy of this book is the current Penguin reprint, which includes an introduction by J.B. Priestley. Now, I am keen on intros, which can add a great deal of value to a classic title. And Priestley, who knew Hamilton personally, makes several interesting points. But his piece is flawed, above all because he discloses what happens at the end of the book .This isn’t a conventional whodunit, far from it, but Priestley shouldn’t have been so crass

I think it’s interesting that this book prefigures the interest of modern readers in the psychology of the criminal. Bone is portrayed in some depth, though his ‘dead moods’ did not strike me as entirely convincing. Yet the novel is well worth reading, at a time when the psychology of crime is a big topic. Patrick Hamilton was a pioneer of the crime genre, much more so than his capable but less gifted brother Bruce. It’s no surprise that he remain a crime writer of choice for a good number of critics. This book is, by some standards, a failure. But it is a rather brilliant failure.

8 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Ah, I remember this.

John said...

Now you need to see the movie version which is completely different, Martin. It retains only a trace of the original book and sets it in gaslit Victorian England on the eve of Guy Fawkes Day - an event that plays a crucial part in the movie. It's an astonishing film, has one of Laird Cregar's finest performances, and a hauntingly powerful score by Bernard Herrmann.

harriet said...

I have this book on the shelf and will be reading it soon. I've read a couple of Hamilton's novels -- his early Craven House and the wonderful Slaves of Solitude -- and I would say that in those at least he's well over the brink -- a truly great writer, in other words. But they are not crime novels, so I'll be interested to see what I think of this one.

vegetableduck said...

Bruce Hamilton's genre work I think is unjustly neglected. He's far from the only crime writer, then or now, who doesn't measure up to Patrick!

A pretty good forties film was made from Hangover Square, with Laird Cregar, who died shortly after filming it, probably due to his massive weight loss for the role.

Roger said...

Giving away the plot of Hangover Square is like revealing 'Rosebud' was a sled.
There's actually also a remarkably bad film of Hangover Square- in which Bone is turned into a Victorian composer (played by Laird Cregar, surprisingly well), who plays his avant-garde piano concerto (Bernard Herrmann's first film score) as he burns to death at the end. The only redeeming features to it.

The Tame Lion said...

Excellent!
Thanks for sharing, that's awesome!

vegetableduck said...

Hmm, three verdicts on the film so far:

"astonishing"

"pretty good"

"remarkably bad"

I think we're all agreed about LAird Cregar, however!

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, the variety of opinions is fascinating! And it's a good thing that opinions vary, too, or the world would be a dull place.
Bruce Hamilton was indeed a good and interesting writer.
Harriet, all Patrick's books (that I've read) are interesting, despite some flaws.