Monday, December 5, 2011

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

Reading The Slaves of Solitude was a bit like playing with a jack-in-the-box.  The plot kept me on edge, some of the characters upset me, but I kept turning the pages to see how it would all turn out. 

The Rosamund Tea Rooms is the boarding house in Thames Lockdon where Miss Roach resides to escape the bombs falling in London.  It also houses the obnoxious Mr Thwaites, a relentless bully.  At least in London the bombs were hit or miss.

'Miss Roach now tried to dodge his fury, to apologize, in so far as it was possible, for the present state of affairs on the Eastern Front, by smiling, making a vaguely assenting and agreeable noise in her throat, and looking hard and giddily at her soup.  But Mr Thwaites was not the sort of man who would permit you to look at your soup when he was anxious to talk about the Russians.'

It was excruciating to enter the gladiator's arena that was the dining room.  Peripheral characters would either sit in silence or try to appease the bully with soft snippets while waiting to see how uncomfortable things got before a retreat was in order.  When an American Lieutenant takes an interest in Miss Roach I thought perhaps he would provide a refuge or at least a lovely distraction.  The reality wasn't nearly as appealing and his idea of showing a woman a good time involved propping up the bar.  Her most toxic relationship wasn't with either of the aforementioned men though, it was with a German woman she befriends who ends up moving into the boarding house.  Vicki Kugelmann laughs and flirts her way into a threesome with the Lieutenant and Miss Roach which can only end badly.  Worse still, Vicki entertains the bully, Mr Thwaites, in the dining room.

So many people have described The Slaves of Solitude as an enjoyable read but I found it uncomfortable.  Which I suppose is all down to Patrick Hamilton's writing skill.  From a personal perspective, as someone who was raised in an atmosphere of alcohol and bullying he nailed the tension in that dining room.  But on a cheerier note there are a couple of scenes involving the etiquette faux pas of using someone else's comb that had me laughing out loud.  The last twenty or so pages were the most satisfying for me and made me really glad to have hung in there.

As far as books set in boarding houses go I preferred London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins, accidental murder and all.  But it's good to step outside of your comfort zone when you're reading for pleasure.  It can't all be about pots of tea and slices of cake!  I just don't know what I was thinking when I also bought Hamilton's Hangover Square but no doubt I'll get through that as well.


  1. I loved reading your thoughts, which are really exactly what I thought they might be, when I saw you were reading it. When I read it, I absolutely loved it - but it was Harriet I recommended it to, because I knew only some bloggers would love it in the way I did. But I'm so glad you tried it, and were glad to have finished!

  2. StuckInABook, If you only knew how many times I wanted to open the front door and fling this book out onto the road! But I bow to your list of books that should be read and have learned a thing or two in the process. Mrs Miniver is helping me get over things quite nicely...and there's cake in the first few pages. Thanks for stopping by, Simon!

  3. I think it's great that you finished it considering the book's flaws. But it seems that there was some good to it as well, and you made me laugh when you said "it can't all be about pots of tea and slices of cake!" I tend to crave the pots of tea and slices of cake, but I want substance also and serious issues. Thanks for sharing your review about a book I was not aware of. I always learn so much from you posts!

  4. I must be perverse, because you've made me really want to read it!

  5. OH, Mrs. Miniver is wonderful! Definitely more the sort of book we can chat about over tea and cake. I'll put the kettle on, k?

  6. Sunday Taylor, Oh yes, I definitely think we share a fondness for the same sort of book! Now that I know how things ended up I can highly recommend giving it a try but read it on a full stomach. There's enough whiskey consumed here to make you queasy just reading about it!

    mary, You made me laugh! Well, should you decide to read it one day I'd love to know your thoughts.

    StuckInABook, I was expecting the movie but this is so much more delightful! And yes to tea...just milk for me, please and thank you.

  7. i agree, the alcohol consumption was rather discomforting in this book. I found it so sad that there wasn't much else for these people to do -- I wonder how true this was? I think you really nailed the description of Vicki, toxic is exactly right!

    It was really quite a sad book but I really did love it. It feels a little odd that I loved this depressing book!

  8. I am a new blogger and found your very interesting site from Simon T. My reactions to the Hamilton were mixed also but I ended up enjoying it. After years of "reading" I have become a reluctant reader so any text which takes me out of my comfort zone [Hamilton did!] will always intrigue me.
    My favourite "Guest House/Hotel" read is "Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont" by Elizabeth Taylor.