Title: The Slaves of Solitude (Goodreads)
Author: Patrick Hamilton
Published: Constable & Robinson, 1947
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Library Book
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
Patrick Hamilton is one of those authors I kept hearing about but no one had actually read him. An author that is often compared to Graham Greene (and sometimes Charles Dickens) and yet I could not tell you anything about his books. Well, until recently when I picked up his 1947 novel The Slaves of Solitude. Doris Lessing (who wrote the introduction to my edition called Patrick Hamilton “a marvellous novelist who’s grossly neglected”1. What a delight it was to find a novelist like Hamilton, there was something quite thrilling about reading a novel that is underappreciated, like I was in on a literary secret but I just cannot keep quiet.
Patrick Hamilton was born to writer parents but due to his father’s alcoholism the family lived in boarding houses. He became a novelist and published his first novel Monday Morning (1925) in his twenties. His first major success was the play Rope (1929) which was later turned into a movie of the same name directed by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. Another of his plays, Gas Light (1938) gave rise to the psychological term ‘gaslighting’ which is commonly used today. His writing is often associated with an acerbic humour but later in his life he started to write in a more misanthropic voice. His own alcoholism and disillusions towards capitalism are often the driving force in his novels believing that violence and fascism would mark the end of capitalism. The Slaves of Solitude is the only one of his works to deal with the Second World War directly.
The Slaves of Solitude explores the lives of the residents living in a boarding house of the small fictional town Thames Lockden during the Second World War. While largely focusing on the experiences of Miss Roach, who moved to the suburban town to escape the overwhelming terrors and rigor of a city. Hoping for a dull and uncomplicated life, Miss Roach soon finds that living in close proximity to others, the added pressure brought on by war, and then the appearance of Vicki Kugelmann makes things anything by simple.
This is a quiet novel exploring the life of Mary Roach, a spinster type character who is just looking for some solitude. The cast of characters living in the Rosamund Tea Rooms do not make life easy. There is Mr Thwaites, who is often described as the ‘President in Hell’; Miss Steele and Miss Barrett, two aging gossiping spinsters; a retired comedian and also her so-called friend Vicki Kugelman. The novel follows Miss Roach and Vicki as tensions between them rise, as they become rivals in love. The Slaves of Solitude turns into an exploration into the emotional struggle between the two and their love triangle in exquisite detail.
I often hate the term love triangle and far too often feels so fake and unrealistic. However in The Slaves of Solitude, Patrick Hamilton is able to explore this trope the right way. This is a highly emotional novel, as a reader you get to experience all the anger and jealousy that Miss Roach is feeling. Hamilton is able to construct this complex web of emotions, not just because of the love triangle but also drawing on the emotions caused by war and living together. What impressed me most was just how much raw emotion was being explored with all its nuances.
Even when exploring different stages of sobriety, Patrick Hamilton has this unique ability to capture the changes in emotions, manners and personality. I do not think I have ever read a book that can capture this as well as The Slaves of Solitude. There is something so satisfying about being taken on an emotional journey and know that the author has the skills to master every unique feeling that might come up along the way.
This is not a plot heavy book, but the character development is well worth reading. Make yourself a Gin and French (Miss Roach’s drink of choice) and give The Slaves of Solitude a go. I know I will be heading back into the writing of Patrick Hamilton very soon. This novel was hilarious and witty but was still able to capture the raw emotions of the characters. A balance that seems impossible to pull off but Patrick Hamilton seems to do it with ease. I cannot recommend The Slaves of Solitude more, and I hope that more people will be reading it in the future.