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Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton ( book review and recommendation)

I had to read this novel for an elective class I was taking back in the day.  In this case 'had to' doesn't imply my lack of desire to do so. In fact, studying literature was marvellous for it provided me with a perfect excuse to spend an insane amount of time with my nose up in books. I didn’t have to feel guilty or unproductive about spending my time reading, as I (sometimes) feel today. Ouch, that was too much information and I can almost feel a start a long digression. Sorry for that, I promise from now on it will all be about the book (i.e. my experience of reading it).
I once (on my old goodreads account) wrote a review for this one and I thought the best way to describe this novel would be by calling it ‘A diary of obsession’ because simply that was the first thing that came to my mind at the time. Today I’m not so sure because it feels like more than that.
 Certainly obsession plays an important part in it, but isn’t it also about other things? About what happens with the person obsessed? Does it not also explore what happens with the person who is the object of obsession? Doesn’t it propose some interesting question? It certainly does and it got me thinking at the time. Who is the real victim? What are dynamics of such a relationship and how do they affect the persons involved? Moreover, the question of other people comes in. Our protagonist and the girl he is head over heels with are not the only characters in this novel.
Indeed, there are always others. How they come in in the story? What is their view on such a relationship? Are they a part of it? Perhaps even initiators? Why do other people have a certain power over us and why do we have it over them? Human relationships are a complex things and when we get down to it, isn’t it one of the things this novel is about? Relationships. The ones we have with others and well as the one we have with ourselves (that one can be a changing one).  Yet what really sets things into motion? What is the motivation behind the actions of our protagonist? Isn’t it obsession? Surely it can be said that obsession plays an important part in this novel?
Yes, obsession is an important theme in this one. Love that is gradually turned into something sinister and finally love as a fully blown obsession. Not just love/ hate type of relationship but the kind of obsession that can drive one mad, that is at its root is mad. Written in third person narration, it feels somewhat like a diary because there is so much focus put on the inner state of the protagonist.  I wanted to call it a diary of obsession but I realized it is more than that. It is a diary of an individual, a diary that captures wonderfully all the awful desperation that is to be found in his soul. If I’m making it sound like a marvellously depressive read, it is because it really is.
Besides love turned into hate, we have another major catalyst and that one comes in the form of drinking. Our protagonist is addicted to it and in this sense this is also a diary of an addict. The kind of addict you can’t help but feel for. There is something touching in the way our protagonist is described and as bad as things get (and they do get pretty bad) I could never get myself to feel sickened by his actions. I just couldn’t. He is written in a way that is far from banal, that’s all I’m going to say.
You probably won’t love him ( I would be surprised if you did) but you will have to admit that as a character he is pretty credible. Not banal. Not pathetic. Even if what he does is pathetic, you will be able to see more to it. That’s what good writing is about. Those subtle dimensions that matter so much and yet are so hard to describe. The line between a bad novel and a good one can be terribly thin. Fortunately, this novel managed to make the cut. Dark as it is, it is a great read.
The subtitle of the novel is “a story of darkest Earl's Court" and it is certainly dark. If dark is an adjective that can be applied to a novel that opens up with an alcoholic experiencing a click (basically an alcoholic blackout) during which ‘ he remembered, without any difficulty, what it was he had to do: he had to kill Netta….’ Mentioning murder that early in the plot actually doesn’t feel like too much. Not with all that insane drinking! 
That’s just the beginning, it get worse…but the beginning is actually a pretty good indicator of what is to come. Indeed, for the George the protagonist, things just seem to go downhill. There is something tragic in it and something inevitable. Netta has poor George in her net (as her name indicates), pushing him lower and lower and as readers we just can’t help but to feel for him.

The novel is well written, I concluded that when I read it for the first time and I still hold onto that opinion. It makes the madness of constant drinking very credible. Not that I would know what an alcoholic blackout looks or feels like, but it is all perfectly described. There is enough detailing, there wasn’t a point when I thought there might be too much of it. I would say that the descriptions in this novel are very good.  It is not just that you’re provided with a view into the alcoholic mind, but the setting, the time period, people and everything… it all comes together beautifully.
The time line of the story is a bit relative, yet it fits the novel. You read fist chapter and then after a few chapters you see another "first chapter" and before you start saying ‘wtf’ just remember that you kind of have to connect some things for yourself. More than once in the novel, you will have some connecting to do. However, it is not difficult to do it.
As you read over and over again about the same mistakes, you don't really get bored (or I didn't) because the story doesn't lose its interest. Maybe there is something universal about suffering that makes it such a fascinating read. This novel is definitely full of pain and desperation. Although I cannot say that I sympathized with the protagonist in the sense I really connected to him on an emotional level, I have to say that I did feel for him. Moreover, I really enjoyed reading this novel and the fact that he was well portrayed certainly played a part in that.

Maybe I couldn't feel deeply sorry for George because he is so full of self-piety...or because he has fallen so low. Still, it was really fascinating to read about him.  George seems to be this novel, meaning that it feels like his diary, an exploration of his soul. I won’t idolize George. As I said, I liked the fact he felt so real. Perhaps too flawed as a person to love, but so well written as a character that it was impossible not to get caught up in the story.

Characterization is one of the strengths of this novel. Netta as a character was well described as was her "gang"...and as for poor George, he feels as real as possible. Somewhere I've read “Hangover Square" being described as a black comedy. Well, I didn't notice anything comic in it. In fact, it felt like too much even for tragicomedy, it felt too heavy even for that.

What I did notice is that there is something nomadic about it, the "atmosphere of homeless" (as it is described in the introduction to the novel), the feeling of desperate desire to get away, of someone trying to escape.

Hamilton has got hold of something for there seems to be something wonderfully honest in his writing. Is it a determination to realistically portray his time? Perhaps it is, but he doesn’t seem to want to take it to an epic scale, he certainly does not in great detail. He sticks with one character and he does it well. Not everyone needs to write an epic novel. I happen to like this novel as it is.
My view is that Hamilton isn’t really trying to write a satire of a particular time period or society. He does touch on that and the creates the atmosphere of that time brilliant. Nevertheless, at least in this novel he seems to be more concentrated on the individual than the society.
 It is possible to read it as a critique of society. He certainly has a brutal way of showing all human imperfections and weaknesses. He does that with style! In one sense, this novel can be viewed as a critique of a society. I really liked that aspect of it but I still can't help but thinking it is mostly about our relationship withourselves.

I think it is one of those novels that can take on many readings. Nevertheless, I happen to think this one is more about the individual than society. It feels like a diary to me. Not a diary of obsession but a diary in a deeper sense of the word. 
This is a story that feels very brave and honest. Especially having in mind that the author may have been describing himself (at least to a degree). All in all, it is not an easy read, but if you stick with it, you will find that it is a fascinating novel.


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