Monday, 11 January 2010

Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton

Regarded as Patrick Hamilton’s finest novel, Hangover Square is the story of George Harvey Bone, a kind hearted but weak willed man who pursues his infatuation with the shallow and vicious Netta, a failed actress who, along with her ghastly friends, fleeces him for money and drinks. But George also suffers from dumb moods when he is suddenly unaware of everything going on around him and can only think of one thing: to kill her.

Netta, an awful little drunk, hangs around with the fascist Peter and the drink sodden Mickey, the man who came up with the phrase Hangover Square to describe a particularly shocking morning-after-the-night-before.

Mickey was about twenty-six, short, with a small moustache on a pasty face. The romance and glory of his life were behind him... He was famous for his drunkenness locally, being particularly welcome in drinking circles, such as the one surrounding Netta, because, by his excess, he put in companions in countenance, making their own excesses seem small in comparison. Your hangover was never so stupendous as Mickey’s, nor your deeds the night before so preposterous.

The descriptions of wasted days in public houses are so palpable I could almost feel the pint glasses sticking to the Lino tabletops. George, who views life through beer-shot eyes, takes a friend to an Earl’s Court boozer. His friend politely looks around the pub, thinking it a nice place to go for a summer drink:

But, of course, he could not see what George could see – the wet winter nights when the door was closed; the smoke, the noise, the wet people: the agony of Netta under the electric light: Mickey drunk and Peter arguing: mornings-after on dark November days: the dart-playing and boredom: the lunch-time drunks, the lunch-time snacks, the lunch-time upstairs: the whole poisoned nightmarish circle of the idle tippler’s existence.

George longs to escape this hellish existence and take Netta away with him, but a disastrous trip to Brighton shows her up for what she really is when she meets him at the station, not alone as planned, but with Peter and someone else they picked up in a pub on the way:

...he realized that they were all three aggressively drunk – had been aggressively drunk for several hours.

As he knocks back the whiskey in an attempt to forget Netta, George finally snaps into one last dumb mood and Hamilton’s seedy Earl’s Court drama ends in tragedy.

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