Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton.
Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square: A Tale of Darkest Earl's Court has been on my TBR pile since 2001: sixteen years. I honestly do not know why it's taken me so long to read it, though partly I think I forgot about it for a period, but when I saw Cosy Book's review at the beginning of the month I thought it was finally time to read it. And, as uncomfortable as it is, I loved it.
It was first published in 1941 but is set a few years later in 1939, just before the war. It tells the story of George Harvey Bone, an alcoholic with some kind of dissociative identity disorder or schizophrenia. He is obsessed by Netta, a woman in his 'circle' who is frankly awful, an utterly unpleasant woman who exploits George's affection for money and his (albeit limited) connections. His desperate attempts to win her, and her continuous repellent behaviour, is almost heartbreaking. The twist, though, is George's "dead moods", his switch, when he is convinced: "he had to kill Netta Longdon", his fragmented personality pushed to the edge by her reprehensible behaviour.
The plot of Hangover Square is simple enough: we see George alternatively trying to get her to love him and planning (and putting off) her murder. What is remarkable about this novel is the atmosphere of it: the political tension of the months leading up to the Second World War is reflected in George's situation. The tension, the doom, is almost as though it had been written by Aeschylus, but this is a thoroughly and distinctively 20th Century. Hamilton is an absolute master and I must read more of his works. It's sickening, almost repulsive subject is offset with the incredible writing: one could almost be in these dingy fleapit bars, and one feels throughout the crisis coming: George's, and England's. We also see what it was like to live in the months preceding the war, the gloom of it, and the underlying anger of the Silent Generation. The theme of madness brought about from love is an old one, but as I say Hamilton's treatment is very much his own. It is a dark and occasionally comic novel, and I'm now very excited about reading more of Hamilton's works.