The perils of drink

The perils of drink

Jefferson Chase unearths a forgotten gem

Whisky & Culture | 10 Nov 2006 | Issue 60 | By Jefferson Chase

  • Share to:
Normally when something goes click in your head, it’s good. But not if you’re George Harvey Bone, the protagonist of Patrick Hamilton’s 1941 novel Hangover Square, a persuasive examination of drinking and schizophrenia in pre-World War II London.Hamilton, who wrote the plays upon which the movies Gaslight and Rope were based, had a thing for homicidal, mentally unbalanced characters, and he wastes no time laying out what his novel is about. He does it in a bit of interior monologue: Why must he kill Netta? Because things had been going on too long, and he must get to Maidenhead and be peaceful and contented again. And why Maidenhead? Because he had been happy there with his sister, Ellen.They had had a splendid fortnight, and she had died a year or so later.He would go on the river again, and be at peace. He liked the High Street, too. He would not drink any more – or only an occasional beer.But first of all he had to kill Netta.Insanity has its own logic – that’s the difficult thing about depicting characters who are off their rocker. As this passage shows, Hamilton got the mix spot on.The Netta in question is a would-be actress turned hustling floozy with whom Bone – a failure at pretty much everything except excessive drinking and golf – is hopelessly and disastrously in love. Netta leads him on in pursuit of money and free drinks, only to repeatedly abuse and humiliate him throughout the novel.If that sounds dark, it is. Nonetheless, with a wry sense of humour, Hamilton also captures the bibulous flair of Neville Chamberlain-era London.Before they ate they had two more large gin things, and he began to feel a bit tight. Two large ones before he called on her – then two more while he was waiting for her – one in her flat, and now two more – seven in all, and mixing whiskies with gin. Well, that wasn’t eight yet – and the old rule applied with him – he was all right until he had had one or several over the eight – large ones, that was to say.The mathematics of heavy drinking involve some pretty complex equations – and Bone is clearly in over his head.But if drinking isn’t the solution for Bone, his true problem is the feckless Netta Longdon. Their relationship is the most one-way love story this side of Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, with Netta as the vapidly malevolent slave driver.She read practically nothing: she did not respond to music and pictures: she never went to the theatre and very seldom to the movies: and although she had an instinctive ability to dress well and effectively when she desired, she did not even like pretty things. She only liked what affected her personally and physically and immediately – sleep, warmth, a certain amount of company and talk, drinks, getting drunk, good food, taxis, ease. She was not even responsive to adulation, save when, coming from a man, it promised to further these necessities. She was atrophied. She looked like a Byron beauty, but she was a fish.Passages like these lift Hamilton’s novel above Maugham’s.The clinical, almost cruel dissecting eye of the third-person narrator toward the female villain allows Hangover Square depict its hero wallowing in misery – without the novel itself wallowing with him.The author creates considerable empathy with Bone, and there’s biographical evidence to suggest why. Himself a heavy drinker, Hamilton died in 1962 of cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure. The inspiration for Hangover Square was allegedly his unrequited passion for the actress Geraldine Fitzgerald in the mid-1930s.Though some of the diction is inevitably dated, this forgotten gem has aged remarkably well – better in fact than some consensus classics. Though it’s hardly a joyous read, Hangover Square doesn’t leave you holding your head and asking yourself whether it was worth it.
Magazine Archive

From the archive

Select an issue

Subscribe Now

Subscriptions for
Whisky Magazine are available
in print, digital or as a
complete package

The Benefits

8 print editions a year

Enjoy the convenience of home delivery

Full access to every digital edition via desktop, iOS or Android device

Latest Issue Subscribe Now

The Whisky Encyclopedia - Coming Soon 2024

Discover the world of whisky with our comprehensive encyclopedia
Featuring companies, distilleries, brands, glossaries, and cocktails

Join The Community

Sign up to the Whisky Magazine
newsletter letter and get access to the latest
in all things whisky

paragraph publishing ltd.   Copyright © 2024 all rights reserved.   Website by Acora One

Consent Preferences