Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Slaves of Solitude

Miss Roach is 38 years old and living in a boarding house in Thames Lockdon in 1943. Her place in London was bombed during the Blitz. She's a lonely solitary person, but things might change for her, as a Lieutenant from America has taken an interest in her, and her German expatriate friend Vicki is going to move into the boarding house too. If only that pompous windbag Mr Thwaites of the boarding house could keep out of their business.

Here's a game for you. For every drink the characters have in this book, have the same for yourself. I assure you that you'll be in a coma by the halfway point of the novel. This is a sad, sad novel about some sad lonely people. Hamilton has created a very small world and populated it with very small people.

I was immediately thinking of The Siege of Krishnapur when reading The Slaves of Solitude. The prose has the same ironically aligned with the protagonist style, but always distanced enough for the reader to be in on the joke. And a joke is definitely what this whole thing is.

Imagine, if you will, a romantic triangle of Miss Roach, the Lieutenant and Vicki, but blown up into epic proportions, and by epic, I mean a classical epic. Yes, Hamilton has written a sort of Rape of the Lock so the sad and disenfranchised of WW2-era London.

That sense of humour pervades throughout the work as Miss Roach tortures herself over a callous American and bitchy German. She goes through so much turmoil and so much heartache, but it's all for nothing.

I don't think that Hamilton, unlike Farrell, holds disdain for his characters. While I think Hamilton is having some fun, he also sympathizes with his characters. He doesn't think that their stories aren't worth telling. He wants to be down with them, at the bottom of a bottle in a lowly pub.

To me, that what's made The Slaves of Solitude a good read as opposed to a great read. It's satire, but it just doesn't quite have enough bite. It's not mean enough, I suppose. I liked the cast of this novel but it was more Schadenfreude than warmth.

I did really enjoy a glimpse of life in a boarding house during the war. If it's true to life, than Hamilton's sense of place and time is immaculate. I was thoroughly immersed in their tiny lives.

The Slaves of Solitude is a good book, bristling with naturalism. Hamilton's prose is excellent and clear, and his love of his own characters shines. If only Hamilton had been a little bit more nasty with the cast, then I might have loved the book rather than just enjoyed it. I will probably read another book by him, and hopefully I'll love it.

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