HANGOVER SQUARE BY PATRICK HAMILTON

The homies used to tell me that she wasn’t no good
But I’m the maniac in black, Mr. Snoop Eastwood
So I figure niggaz wouldn’t trip with mine
Guess what? Got gaffled by one time

[Bitches Aint Shit by Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg]

The above proves that it can happen to the best [or worst, depending on your point of view] of us. We’ve all been there: infatuated with someone who is clearly rotten to the core. Indeed, a friend of mine is currently embroiled in just such a situation, the poor sod. The lady in question is clearly not interested in my buddy; she ignores him most of the time, takes his money, has him chauffeuring her [and her family!!] around. And what is his response to this obviously unpleasant behaviour? He has just bought a flash car in order to try and impress her. Oh yes he has.

You see, there’s no helping, nor reasoning with, people like my friend. Short of a physical intervention one will never be able to prevent him from succumbing to the temptation to return to the poisoned stream that both refreshes and harms him. He is, rather unfortunately, just like George Harvey Bone, the main focus of Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton. The novel opens with Bone returning from a holiday, intent on murdering a young woman called Netta. Evidently he went away in order to forget about her, to get over her, and evidently it hasn’t worked. [As a side note, anyone who travels to Maidenhead in order to make themselves feel better is asking for trouble anyway].

Once the reader is introduced to Netta one instantly understands why George wants to kill her. That she doesn’t have any redeeming qualities is necessary, however, because it emphasises just how desperate, just how far gone, Bone is. She is a manipulative, callous, money-grubbing, tart-without-a-heart. Her sidekick Peter, whom Bone also despises, mostly out of jealousy, is just as loathsome. Moreover, just in case we find ourselves, during the reading of this book, able to go either way in our appraisal of these two characters Hamilton makes sure to tip us over the edge into clear antipathy by making them fascist sympathisers [Peter especially].

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[An English pub in the 1940’s]

Bone doesn’t always eye Netta with murderous intent, of course. He only wants to kill her when experiencing what he calls his dead moods, which he compares to the shutter of a camera coming down. In the novel there is no sort of diagnosis, or psychoanalysis, but these moods are clearly some form of psychosis. When in them George becomes to a large extent unresponsive to external stimuli, is less easily manipulated, is angrier, but is confidently full of [an unsavory] purpose. Hilariously, Netta likes him more when he is like this, although I am pretty sure the moral of Hamilton’s tale isn’t to get the girl: be mental and vow to kill her.

When not in a dead mood Bone is exceedingly compliant. He does Netta’s bidding without complaint, he follows her around, he pays for her drinks, takes her out to expensive places; he is a pathetic specimen who serves as the butt of Peter and Netta’s wholly unfunny jokes. Crucially, Bone knows that he is being treated badly; he isn’t entirely deluded, but feels as though he can’t help himself where this girl is concerned, that he needs her on whatever basis is available to him.

I’m not going to say anything about how all this turns out, whether happily or unhappily, but I do want to make a point of saying how funny I think Hangover Square is. For a novel principally concerned with alcoholics, horrible fuckers, madness and murder it is to Hamilton’s great credit that he manages to make it very funny indeed. My favourite moment being when Netta mistreats Bone [again], and he incredulously declares something along the lines of she must be capable of feeling something! Oh no, my poor Bone, no no no no.

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