scarecrow editorial

Monday, October 03, 2005


3: Portslade, Portslade, Portslade

Well, some of you may be familiar with the recent BBC adaptation of Patrick Hamilton’s wondrous Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky and some of you may not. Some of you may very well have read everything this alluring writer has written and some of you may well be thinking: just who the hell is this Patrick Hamilton you keep prattling on about? Regardless which category you fall into, please, allow us to introduce you to Hove’s finest export.

Patrick Hamilton’s fiction is a joy to read, his most famous work being the unforgettable Hangover Square. This is the London writer, the “Dickensian Modernist” who created a narrative that looks inwards from each conceivable angle, a narrative that brims, that rattles with the vernacular, the sounds, the smells, the voice of post-war London. Has any other writer captured the unique patter, the banter, the varying idiosyncrasies of this city’s maligned, its lost and forgotten, its stamped-upon-daily hordes? We doubt it. And please, spare us any mention of Martin Amis. Fathoms dear comrades, fathoms. We also deny anyone to pick up a book by this man and not be moved by the world within its pages.

Patrick Hamilton’s novels are highly autobiographical; a Marxist philosophically and politically Hamilton’s hatred of all things Fascist can be found throughout his entire oeuvre and especially in Hangover Square. The Midnight Bell [first book in his Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky trilogy] is ostensibly about his real-life infatuation with a London prostitute, Lilly Connelly. The book is a bitter-sweet account of this disastrous encounter and deals with the same recurring themes endemic throughout Hamilton’s fiction: loss, rejection, desperation and lust. Characters who search out cheap frills in a shallow, materialistic world which is constantly weighing them down [Michel Houellebecq is his natural successor in this respect], wading through the thick, smoggy London backstreets in search of something they can never attain: happiness. There is no redemption in Hamilton’s fiction; there are no happy-ever-afters.

His great ear for speech is second to none and his prose is startling in its immediacy because of this. His novels are littered with the written recordings of the hustler, the drunk, the pimp, the con-man, the middle-classes, the upper-classes, the working-class, the under-class, the down-trodden, the forgotten, the lonely, the pub bores, the blatherskites, the never ending tumult, the whole mesmerising, rotting, obfuscating gambit, the be all, the end all, his wonderful London. Never has a British novelist captured the true desperation that exists within the confines of mass populous, that very human longing that pours from the walls in every smoky, back alley boozer the width and breadth of this sprawling metropolis.

It seems that Hamilton still remains that odd square peg who still, somehow, manages to appear aloof and evade most established critical classifications. This, we feel, can only be a good thing, you see, we need the writers who stand out alone, who turn their backs on the current trends, who never follow suit and who, joyously, we, the humble reader, stumble across by chance without the soul-sapping marketing strategies that now surrounds novelists the world over - and writers such as Patrick Hamilton are made all the more magical because of this.

Patrick Hamilton, the “Dickensian Modernist” [a term he would have found laughable as a Marxist, being quite dismissive of Modernism due to its lack of concern with social reality], the Marxist, the alcoholic, the hater of automobiles has left us a comically grotesque fiction, a body of work with its dark foundations firmly embedded within the fabric of social-realism and a must-read for any serious connoisseur of British post-war fiction.

Lee Rourke © 2005.

Short Bibliography:

Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky.
Hangover Square.
Impromptu in Moribundia.
The Slaves of Solitude.
The West Pier.


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