I am in one of those between books places in which I keep flitting from book to book, not really settling anywhere. Perhaps I'm unconsciously waiting for Lorrie Moore's new novel to arrive in the mail. Meanwhile,on John Self's
recommendation, I started The Slaves of Solitude
which chronicles the lonely lives of the denizens of a suburban boarding house near World War II torn London. Patrick Hamilton regards this petty, claustrophobic universe and its inhabitants with a gimlet eye:
Such was Miss Roach's pink boudoir in Thames Lockdon before dinner at night. Before washing she looked at what she could see of herself in the mirror - at the thin, bird-like nose and face, and the healthy complexion - too healthy for beauty - the open-air, sun-and-wind complexion of a uniform red-brick colour, of a texture and colour to which it would be impossible or absurd to apply make-up of any sort. She had, she knew, the complexion of a farmer's wife and the face of a bird. Her eyes, too, were bird-like - blackly brown, liquid, loving, appealing, confused. Her hair was of a nondescript brown colour, and she parted it in the middle. She was only thirty-nine, but she might have been taken foor forty-five. She had given up "hope" years ago. She had never actually had any "hope." Like so many of her kind - the hopelss - she was too amiable and tried too hard in company and conversation, and so sometimes gave an air, untrue to her character, of being genteel.
If I had been living at the same time as Hamilton (actually we may have barely overlapped but it's unlikely that we met) and had three wishes I would use one of them to wish that I never encountered Hamilton in a bar, train waiting room, or anywhere where we might both sit long enough for him to train lay his eye upon me and draw my portrait with his acid pen. His writing, though his vision is scathing, is redolent of rich imagery. It has an elegance.
London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs, held there for a number of hours, and then, in the evening, exhaled violently through the same channels.
The men and women imagine they are going into London and coming out again more or less of their own free will, but the crouching monster sees all and knows better.
But what a bleak, black vision.
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