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The Library of Babel

A Spin-off of http://bookwormshead.blogspot.co.uk

The Slaves of Solitude - Patrick Hamilton, David Lodge It seems like I became pretty hopeless in writing my book reviews in the last days. It could be this persistent headache I feel from early morning till late evening. It could be boredom. It could be me.

The problem is that now I know that I will not be able to do this novel any justice. And that's a pity, as no one like Patrick Hamilton would deserve to get a good review.

Time could be such an unforgiving beast. And what time does to magnificent but ill-preserved books, yellowing their pages, piling dust on their covers, weakening their binding, fading printed words could sometimes happen to worthy authors (and bored head-ached reviewers too!).

Just like it happened with Mr Hamilton.

For twenty years, between the 1930s and the 1950s, Patrick Hamilton was a hit, probably a minor hit, but still a rather successful novelist as well as a respected playwright (no less than Alfred Hitchcock made a movie out of one of his plays).
But Mr Hamilton kept himself ill-preserved over-indulging in alcohol thereby being at mercy of time. The beast bit him straight shortening his life and then in a more subtle but equally painful way gnawing out Patrick Hamilton's popularity.

The result of this erosion by time is that nowadays who really knows about Mr Hamilton among non-compulsive readers?
Sure, the period and people he wrote about - England before and after World War Two & office clerks, retired ladies and pub-goers - could be blamed: but then again, how would you explain the success still experienced by authors like, say, George Orwell and Graham Greene who played in the same court?

True, while Orwell and Greene managed to diversify their literary production setting their novels as far as Burma and Vietnam, Hamilton's exoticism never went farther than Brighton and the Thames valley. But I'm afraid that it's mostly the reputation of drunkard gained by middle-aged Hamilton which cut him off from posthumous rediscovery.

All this preamble to say that "Slaves of Solitude" is one of those little gems one should be aware of, especially if born and bred in the UK or having had the chance to live there for a while.

There were many times while reading this book in which I thought that the fictional town of Thames Lockdon was the same Abingdon (now Abingdon-on-Thames) where I have been living in the last two years. But Wikipedia told me that I was wrong: it's actually Henley-on-Thames. For what it matters.

What is astonishing in this book is the ability of Hamilton to look into the lives of ordinary people caught in an extra-ordinary contest, having been forced to leave London during the Blitz to find shelter in a boarding house in a dull small town along the Thames.

It's the capacity of putting himself in the shoes of unattractive spinsters beyond their prime, boastful retired men, idle American GIs reflecting their interactions in the microcosm of a small nosy town which impressed me the most here.

That and some hilarious literary inventions like the Bible-Chauceresque Troth language spoken by an old odd self-proclaimed gentleman and the depth level of introspection reached in unlucky-named Miss Roach, a rather atypical heroine.

And even though the finale of this novel is all but grand, but quite disappointing the characters and the atmosphere I found in "The Slaves of Solitude" will never be forgotten.