Sorry for the disappearing act, but it was a long and hectic week in Arizona. I’ll be on the Herd at 11:10 am EDT on Wednesday, and on Mile High Sports 1510 in Denver at 8:25 am MDT.
He walked through Castle Square to the sea. When he reached the sea he saw that dawn was breaking over it, dimly, bluely, feebly, amidst the torn clouds of rain. He smelt the air and felt better. He was glad he had done this. He felt like a walk. He was doing the best thing.
And then he felt a curious snap in his head.
Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square, part of the Bloomsbury 100, is an overlooked work from the playwright behind the movies Rope (famous for director Alfred Hitchcock’s use of long takes with disguised cuts) and Gaslight, a psychological novel of a different sort: The protagonist is suffering from what we’d now call dissociative identity disorder*, and one of his personalities wants to murder the woman his other personality loves.
*Dissociative identity disorder is, according to one theory, a reaction to childhood trauma, such as abuse, but Hamilton depicts Bone’s split personality as something he’s had from birth.
George Harvey Bone’s primary personality is the saddest of sacks, a social outcast who spends his time following a group of libertines who abuse him verbally but are all too happy to take advantage of his occasional flush periods. The group includes Netta, an aspiring actress who is neither that talented nor that driven and is primarily hoping for luck or fate to hand her a big break. Bone is in love with her – or perhaps with the idea of her – and she plays with his emotions in a cruel, sadistic manner. Bone’s secondary personality is monomaniacal in its drive to kill Netta, realizing that she is the obstacle to Bone (or his primary personality) getting on with his life.
Hamilton was criticizing the seemingly impermeable barrier between social classes in interwar England, with Netta and her friends exploiting Bone when it suits them but refusing him full entry into their social circle. (Of course, part of their disdain for Bone is what they call his “dumb moods,” when he has actually clicked over to the secondary personality.) That subtext was obvious, but I’ve read several references to Hamilton also depicting fascism through the story, and I just don’t see it. It’s a good thriller, one where Bone’s murderous desires are made a little morally ambiguous by the rotten treatment he receives at the hands of the heartless Netta, and creeping fascism does receives its mentions (through Netta’s sort-of beau, Peter), but I’m hesitant to put more metaphor into the story than Hamilton intended.
The version of Hangover Square currently in print is full of unfortunate typos, and I’m not sure whether they’re from the original text or just sloppy editing by the new publisher. Some errors were unintentionally funny, like roadside “sinposts” (I assume you find those on the Highway to Hell) or, after a phone has been ringing for a while, “at last there was an answering dick,” without actually explaining who the dick was. (Sam Spade, perhaps? Philip Marlowe?)
Next up: I finished The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread while in Arizona; is anyone still reading it, or should I post a writeup with some discussion questions for those who already did? I’ve since moved on to Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road.