This week, the phrase “taking a quick stroll around Hangover square” entered common parlance (for me, anyway). Tingling with alcoholic regret, it is the sentence which best defines Patrick Hamilton’s masterpiece novel, the name of which is drawn from the aforementioned quote. The story of schizophrenic George Harvey Bone, it centres largely around the drunken community of 1930s Earl’s Court – the pubs, the blurred black and white charm and the loneliness of the hopeless, delusional drunk.
George is besotted with Netta, the beauty who holds court in the Black Hart, and, for that matter, all of the other pubs she cares to frequent. She is lazy, disinterested and effectively empty-headed, but she possesses a ruthless streak that prevents her from doing anything but using George as a tool; because of this, and because of the ‘dead’ moods he falls into when his schizophrenia takes over, he sets out to kill her. But “poor, dumb” George is unaware of the workings of his ‘dead’ mind, so he continues to chase Netta, and, at the end, even finds a happiness of sorts. But, in Brighton (what is it about Brighton and settings for books?), he reverts to a kind of schizophrenic mental paralysis and makes plans to kill Netta and Peter, a fascist and his rival, before fleeing to Maidenhead, where he believes all his problems will be solved because he will be reunited with his dead sister. The book is as dark as tragedies come, as George, the victim, not the villain, falls foul of his fragile state of mind and slowly loses his sanity. Hamilton, probably best known for the epic, three part social panorama’Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky’, evokes a world of darkness, of a country teetering on the brink of war (the story is set in 1939 – a fact I have so far neglected to mention), and of a single figure struggling against forces beyond his control. The narration is superb throughout, with Hamilton setting out, in casual slang, the workings of George’s mind and the development towards the final act, when, in a single day, events reach their climax. It is perhaps the setting, the looming backdrop, the threat of global conflict that grants the book such a foreboding air and piles the worries of the world onto Bone’s shoulders. Troubled, simple and quiet, he fights on, but is never sure of himself; it is this last fact that makes the book so melancholy; it is this, maybe, that makes it so readable.
Weekly wanderings – A TV special! I can’t help but think it’s been a good week for television, especially with the return of ‘The Apprentice’, the thinking-man’s ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!’ For this series, Sir Alan Sugar reportedly demanded that the beeb find him a better crop of contestants, claiming that the last lot was weak, and obviously perturbed by Donald Trump, star of the US version, laughing at him behind his back. But Sir Alan will always be the most entertaining. He tries to come across as your average quick-tongued Cockney wide-boy, but he stumbles over his words and waddles about like the fat controller in Thomas the Tank Engine. I was disappointed this week to see potential laugh-riot Andy fall at the first hurdle; he was all rotund enthusiasm and, despite my protestations, clearly deserved to go simply for the line “WE’LL WORK TILL WE BLEED!” Grasping his colleagues’ shoulders, blood surged to his face, his eyes lit up, and he suddenly realised, after being voted team leader (despite trying to back out of it), that he was going to get fired. Oh well, he can always go back to selling cars.
Also of interest was Louis and the Most Hated Family in America, which signaled the welcome return of Louis Theroux and his own uber-neurotic brand of investigation; this week, he met members of the Westboro church in Topeka, Kansas, whose members claim to hate America because it is a country run by ‘fag enablers’, or people who tolerate homosexuality. Fire and brimstone ruled the agenda as Louis spoke softly to self-confessed “evil angels” as they picketed the funeral of dead troops and protested outside a shop selling Swedish vacuum cleaner parts. Hmm. Louis kept his distance: “I’m just a journalist, Shirley!” He has a cartoon charm which makes him impossible to dislike, and he’s often very effective, but at times he seemed to get washed away by a tide of rampant mentalism, to the point where he could say was: “you’ve got fornication on the brain!” to one lady demonstrating against deviancy. Classy.
Zeitgeisting It Up! This wasn’t on the list, but I, along with many other career criminals, have been waiting for it. I think perhaps the Hashmark needs a specialist games column.