The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

slaves1.jpgHamilton’s best-known title is Hangover Square, but I think that the recently re-printed The Slaves of Solitude may be a better introduction to his genius to most readers, with its more measured, benevolent view of human folly and its sympathetic heroine — the sober, bewildered Miss Roach. Having fled the bombings, Roach returns from London each night to a boarding house in a quiet suburb where she and her fellow inmates are nightly subjected to the spectacular boorishness of Mr. Thwaites, a devastating literary creation that had me wincing and gasping as I might over the jaw-dropping sallies of Borat, or of Ricky Gervais in the original British version of The Office. For a moment it seems as though some respite is at hand when a hard-drinking American lootenant brashly courts our Miss with disarming ham-fisted vigor; enter Vickie Kugelman, a German immigrant who threatens her place in the yank’s affections and joins league with the Dickensian Thwaites in waging an insidious war of insinuations and slights upon Roach. Hamilton’s psychological insight is keen, and he clearly relishes tying his characters in knots of their own devising. The moments of discovery, exasperation and triumph are sublime; I recall dissolving into gales of laughter over a pitch perfect rumination that simply read “Oh…Oh…Oh…” This perceptive comedy of manners is a sheer delight.

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