Seedy side of town

If you didn’t count the ‘dead’ moods he was sane enough. In fact, he was probably too sane, too normal. If only he was a little more erratic, if only he had a little fire, a little originality or audacity, it might have been a different story. A different story with Netta and all along the line. 

Hangover Square 2Hangover Square · Patrick Hamilton · 1941
Europa, 2006 · 334 pages, paperback

George Harvey Bone is in love with Netta Longdon. He’s infatuated with her, taken in by her beauty. Netta can offer nothing else: she’s an idler, a failed actress who leads men on til she’s emptied their wallets. But George (no, not George, George in his dead moods) knows he must kill her; it’s the only sensible thing to do. This George doesn’t know who Netta is, but yes, it’s a sorry fact that he must kill her.

Those parts of Hangover Square written from the perspective of George’s dead mood self are so excellently done as to reel us in and make us believe there’s logic in the illogical. Is there ever rationality in madness? Patrick Hamilton wrote these “dead moods” from George’s own perspective (as he did much of his novel), but he gave his man a different voice, one that is giddy and mildly puzzled (and really rather harmless in its cheerfulness) to accompany his schizophrenia.

“Dead mood” George Harvey Bone approaches the problem of killing Netta Longdon with such schoolboy innocence that his tone and difficulties are like those of a child puzzling out how he is to get to London when he has neither bicycle nor money for a cab (nor mother’s permission to go in the first place).

Like in a dream, so many irrational necessities crowd in to delay his killing of Netta: he must go to Maidenhead afterward, but there is no sense in going to Maidenhead during the cold months and therefore he must kill Netta come springtime, not now…such a delicate thing, this murder business.

Hamilton has George begin his thoughts always from their beginning. It’s an obsessive compulsive string of thoughts that, sometimes down to the phrase, repeat with each shuttering down of the rational George into the dumbness of his dead moods. He has trouble at first remembering what it is he must do (kill Netta, how natural) and never is able to start where he had left off last time he was in such a mood. Always, it’s a half-finished madness. Always, it’s a doubling back to the start of things. Hamilton wrote these passages of madness such that we almost feel with George how logical the tangle is.

His obsession remains after the fact: George worries over leaving everything undisturbed and tidy for the police. He literally threads together Netta’s furniture (he buys spools of gray thread for the purpose), criss-crossing to this and that and leaving behind a net of threads to keep it all in place. It’s the apex of his insanity and the nadir of his character. At this point the act is done, and the film will play on long after his mind clicks back into place (if ever it will). It’s off to Maidenhead then, come what may.

The Hangover Square of Hamilton’s novel is Earl’s Court, London, a notorious hang-about place for sots and slobs. It’s also the years between Versailles and Munich, with the truth that the poorest way to dilute a hangover is to pour a little more: We and France are today…in fulfillment of our obligations going to the aid of Poland…September, 1939, and Europe is at war again.

Hangover Square was first published in 1941, two years after Poland and at a time when “Germany,” via annexations, alliances and control of its Vichy stooges, was synonymous with the European continent. As a novel written during, as opposed to either before or after, the war, Hangover Square has an interesting perspective. Hamilton included those prescient words of Mr. Chamberlain’s – that yearning determination to attain “peace in our time” – as words issuing from a wireless in Netta’s apartment. What did Hamilton feel as he put those words onto paper? Peace must have seemed such a far-fetched thing in blackout London, the thunder of Blitzkrieg loud in his ears.

These details that point to events outside of George and Netta and Peter and Mickey and the rest are very few. They ground the novel in reality and show just how caught up in alcohol and in each other these people are, as if trying to avoid the life around them.

Apart from the schizophrenia and the booze and the wartime pomp (at first) and gloom (later), Hangover Square has got some wry humor to it: a male’s perspective of dating beautiful and selfish women, of slavering after them while feeling how ill they’re treated by these same women. Hamilton portrays the chase, with its requisite tug and pull of aloofness and attentions, and he leaves dear George standing at Netta’s front door every time, even when the others go up to her rooms.

It’s hard to remember she’s an impecunious actress without a role to play. Maybe we’re fooled by the drunken nights and the men who swarm to her beauty; maybe we begin to think she’s a real lucky star with glamour and all, that she’s highly sought-after by the producers Fitzgerald, Carstairs & Scott (they instead confide to George that she’s a real bitch).

But we think this only because we’re inside of George Harvey Bone’s head, and he’s placed her on a pedestal. I love that the final trip to Brighton is such a snubbing! Because finally George is taken care of during a downright stag party. Bros before Hos, everyone; this novel feels so modern, and Hamilton did us a fine turn, making us pity and love such a man as George Harvey Bone.

Hangover Square · Patrick Hamilton · 1941
Europa, 2006 · 334 pages, paperback

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