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The Slaves of Solitude

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  795 ratings  ·  103 reviews
England in the middle of World War II, a war that seems fated to go on forever, a war that has become a way of life. Heroic resistance is old hat. Everything is in short supply, and tempers are even shorter. Overwhelmed by the terrors and rigors of the Blitz, middle-aged Miss Roach has retreated to the relative safety and stupefying boredom of the suburban town of Thames L...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 20th 2007 by NYRB Classics (first published 1947)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,091)
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Jan 04, 2009 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: only the lonely; recovering alcoholics; old maids
Recommended to Jessica by: jay dickson
Anyone who actually listens to my opinions and bases their library picks on my star ratings (hi, mom!) deserves to know what the unusual fifth star represents. My stars make zero effort at even an obviously subjective judgment of how "good" I think a book is. Instead, the fourth star is a measure of how much I personally enjoy a book and find it engaging, while my elusive fifth star is granted when I feel a book has made enough of an impression on me that it's demonstrably changed my life.

I hone...more
Of all the books I've attempted to review on this website, none has given me more trouble than Patrick Hamilton's The Slaves of Solitude. I realize that there are two primary reasons for this critical reticence on my part: (1) The quality control department of my review-writing factory is in shambles. The employees are mutinous, indifferent, and suffering from a midgrade malaise that causes them to spend their days using a bent hanger to fish free stuff out of the vending machine and trying out...more
Apr 07, 2013 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: tuning forks
Recommended to Mariel by: clip clopping of cloven hooves
'Old Roach.' 'Old Cockrock.' Driven out on to the streets, and walking about in the blackness, as she had done that night, months ago, before all this had begun. 'Old Cockroach.' That was her. That was how they had started with her, and that was how it would always be. She might have known this- she might have known better than to have suspected the possibility of any brighter destiny.
If she hadn't cried herself out already, she could go back and cry. But she had cried herself out. It was all o
Once again I am guilty of loving a book for what are probably all the wrong reasons. The jacket description of Hamilton’s The Slaves of Solitude mentions an oppression brought on by World War II, a population redistribution into the rooming houses of London’s suburbs (to escape the Blitz, among other things), and a feeling of claustrophobia that results from this migratory shift, bringing strangers from different backgrounds into close proximity but without the sense of relief that a larger city...more
Nov 13, 2011 JSou rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to JSou by: David
Shelves: favo-u-rites, nyrb
Who knew Patrick Hamilton had such a rough, crazy life? Here's a few nuggets I read in his author bio after opening the cover:

His father was a bullying alcoholic comedian and historical novelist; his mother, a sometime singer.

After his mother withdrew him from Westminster School at the age of fifteen...

In 1927 Hamilton fell unhappily in love with a prostitute...

In 1932, he was badly injured and permanently disfigured after being hit by a car.

Hamilton died of cirrhosis of the liver and kidney fai
Nick Hornby kind of hits the nail on the head with his blurb, that if you wanted to connect Dickens to Martin Amis with only one author Patrick Hamilton would be your author. This has the great characterizations of Dickens but the nastiness (moral depravity?, neither of these words is quite right, oh well) of M. Amis.

This book is really close to being great, but there is something missing in it. Maybe it needed a little more to the story, maybe the German woman needed to be shown at least once...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
An interesting read after Brooklyn. The Slaves of Solitude (I just wrote that as "salves" of solitude, which would be a very different thing, wouldn't it?) - anyhoo - Miss Roach and TSoS's boarding house are in many ways (but not all ways) polar opposites of Eilis Lacey and her Brooklyn abode, and yet the experience with the one plays really nicely off of the other.

I take note of this weird alchemy that occurs as books go from my to-read to my currently-reading list, because it's been happening...more
Had Charles Dickens travelled forward in time, had Muriel Spark travelled back, had they met in wartime London, they might have collaborated on this book.

“London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men and women of all kinds, who every morning are sucked up through an infinitely complicated respiratory apparatus of trains and termini into the mighty congested lungs...more
The only thing a boarding house can't tell you about human nature is what it's like to have a helluva lot of money. But it can tell you everything else, and will, whether you want to know or not. Patrick Hamilton has such an excellent boarding house reach, the Rosamund Tea Rooms even tell us a thing or two about the war. There's one going on between Mr. Thwaites, an old bully who has it in for the spinster of the species, and Miss Roach, who just might be one. From there on it's pure boarding ho...more
What a marvellous book. I've enjoyed four other Patrick Hamilton novels (Hangover Square and the Gorse Trilogy) and this is right up there with the best. Hamilton returns to some of his familiar themes: London, the War, and fascism. Set in 1943 it deals with the ordinary lives of ordinary people. As well as the battles facing Britain, there is one closer to home. The battle between the novel's protagonist Miss Roach, a shy spinster in her thirties, and the monstrous Mr Thwaites, with whom she ha...more
Here’s a buried treasure restored to the light of day. Hamilton, who is best known these days for one of the great drinking books, Hangover Square, wrote The Slaves of Solitude some years later on the other side of the War, and brings a more measured, benevolent sensibility to the book, as well as a far more sympathetic and sober heroine in the decent, oft bewildered Miss Roach. Not that there’s a dearth of drinking, especially at the hands of an American Lieutenant stationed in a London suburb...more
Lorenzo Berardi
It seems like I became pretty hopeless in writing my book reviews in the last days. It could be this persistent headache I feel from early morning till late evening. It could be boredom. It could be me.

The problem is that now I know that I will not be able to do this novel any justice. And that's a pity, as no one like Patrick Hamilton would deserve to get a good review.

Time could be such an unforgiving beast. And what time does to magnificent but ill-preserved books, yellowing their pages, pil...more
Hamilton does so much well in this novel that it's hard to believe it is not more well-known or that it hasn't been made into a BBC mini-series. In some ways, my other favorite British WWII writer, Olivia Manning, falls into the same category of a sleeper novelist, someone who didn't produced much but should be known for what he/she has written. for one, Hamilton captures the horrors of urban and suburban life in 1940s England. In an attempt to escape the blitz, a very real indisputable horror,...more
If you're interested in social history of Britain in WWII, this is an excellent novel. When I say "social history", though, understand that it is social. This is a book about people and their behavior during a particular wartime, in a particular country. While the awareness of war suffuses the characters and affects their lives profoundly, the story is not about World War II.

That said, I think this is a pretty great book, and not just because I'm interested in the social history. It's one of the...more
Patrick Hamilton writes the ultimate London World War Two era novels. They are people who sort of lost it through various reasons: the war around them as well as the daily drinking that takes place. But one through his novels can smell the despair that the characters are going through. An amazing novelist.
If you like feeling TRAPPED in a book with its characters (all of whom - save ONE - are particularly unlikeable), and you also enjoy:

- life during wartime narratives
- English repression of every possible feeling in the giant spectrum of feelings
- just generally feeling terrible

...then this is the book for you!

I guess my main beef with this novel lays mostly on the sad little shoulders of the put-upon Ms. Roach, our protagonist, who spends most of the novel fretting and over-fretting and fretting...more
Elizabeth Moffat
Four and a half stars if I could...

I have never read any Patrick Hamilton before, and I ask myself why? It was absolutely fantastic. When this came up as a book group choice I was eager to read it and so glad I eventually have. I must say it has one of the best opening paragraphs ever in the history of book openings:

“London, the crouching monster, like every other monster has to breathe, and breathe it does in its own obscure, malignant way. Its vital oxygen is composed of suburban working men a...more
Patrick Johns
I normally start off by pointing out a few grammatical errors, stylistic faults, inconsistencies, factual errors, or references to non existent pieces of classical music. But I am afraid this is one book I am unable to fault. I actually loved this book, the characters, the atmosphere, the visualization, the structure and probably most of all the language, especially the dialogue.

Obviously one is reminded of Graham Greene – although this lacks the violence and explicit menace of say Brighton Rock...more
When I say this is a small novel, I do not mean it in a pejorative sense. Hamilton deliberately sets out to look at a small world, a goldfish bowl of human life as it were. The setting is a boarding house in Thames Lockdon (or Henley on Thames, as it is in reality) during the war, with various strangers put together and forced to find a polite compatibility. However, over time tensions start to rise. Despite the World War raging outside, this is a book that deals with the small issues and confli...more
David Lodge wrote a review for the Guardian in 2007:

I loved this book, it has a wonderful mixture of grimness and dark humour so that I was laughing while thinking how horrible Miss Roach's situation is. Mr Thwaites is a Dickensian villain who keeps doing the same thing day after day and meal after meal; Miss Roach knows he will and dreads it and it grinds her down over time until she sees it as a form of hell. This mirrors the grimness and privations of w...more
What a gorgeous title.
I chose this book because I liked the sound of an English boarding-house and its denizens during World War II, but I had no idea it would be so biting and honest and funny. Beautifully-written with intricate, recognizable characters. What a world. (And don't forget what's going on in the rest of the world while this little boarding-house is turned upside-down.)
Now I'm reading the introduction afterwards (I never read it first for fear it'll give too much a way).

Like all c...more
Katy Evans-Bush
Gorgeous, dyspeptic, uncompromising. Unsentimental.

The book is not without its flaws - chiefly in the author's tendency to let point-of-view reflections slip into lazy, expository characterisation, and some problems with pacing near the end. But the mise en scene is fabulous; the depiction of the main (female) character is masterful; and a very particular grainy quality of life in wartime is foregrounded. Marvellous stuff. Also, all you'll ever need or want to know about life in a boarding house...more
After a Hamilton reading marathon this summer that took in the Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy and Hangover Square, this is the first I would recommend because it has strong dose of humor to offset his typically grim narrative of characters sliding into an abyss of alcoholism and isolation - his usual bleak naturalism yields here and there to an entertainingly Dickensian overstatement.

Set during WWII, the book also fits on the rather compact shelf of "great English boardinghouse n...more
One could trouble oneself with establishing Hamilton's protagonist Enid Roach in a tradition stretching from Jane Eyre to Bridget Jones, but, then, that isn't really the argument. The inhabitants of the boarding-house were all developed in that sitting room profile manner. Their coexistence stems from the Blitz, the privation, the War. That is the spectral presence which haunts this novel.
Perfect opening paragraph for a London novelist and a flawless, Dickensian conclusion. Absolutely brilliant. And in between, we have the forlorn story of Miss Roach, a spinster (who ”was only thirty-nine, but might have been taken for forty-five”) in a Henley-on-Thames boarding house (”with pink wall-paper, which bore the mottled pattern of a disease of the flesh”) eating wartime dinners (”warm spam and mashed potatoes”) in the company of the odious, bullying Mr Thwaites (the ”president in hell...more
This book, in my mind, encapsulates the British way of life where unwritten rules about behaviour and social interactions are to the fore. The main character Miss Roach (and whose first name Enid, is not revealed until half-way through the book) is living through the latter part of World War 2 in a smaller township of Thames Lockdon where she has a room in a boarding house called the Rosamund Tearooms. She commutes during the week into London and back, having fled London at the height of the bom...more
The Slaves of Solitude

I've now read two of Patrick Hamilton's novels. I want to read them all.
Set during the Second World War, in the winter of 1943, the tide is turning against Nazi Germany. The action is mostly in and around a boarding house called The Rosamund Tea Rooms and pubs in the fictitious outer London town of Thames Lockdon, which was based on an actual place. I could visualise the atmosphere of the places from Patrick Hamilton's writing.
Old Patrick ain't half been a clever bastard i...more
This is a book about war that takes place in England during World War II. But its not about WWII, but about a different kind of war - one that was merely exacerbated by the physical hostilities, but not caused by, or directly tied to them. This is a book about the social wars fought in all social gatherings, and the resultant solitude. The guns of the tongue, and the shrapnel of the glance. The wounds of innuendo and the arrows of the unsaid.
The main character, Miss Roach, is a nervous, frighte...more
A bleak, meagre novel depicting single life in wartime England. Rich in pompous bullies, spiteful villains, middle class etiquette and lost values, Hamilton is painfully accurate in his depiction of the pettiness and tension that results from lonely, unmarried characters forced to live together in a small town boarding house. This novel is semi-autobiographical, cathartic perhaps, drawing on Hamilton's rollercoaster personal life. The detail of the dinner scenes is so precise, and reminded me of...more
This is book was completely unexpected. Who would think that life of 38 year old, spinster Enid Roach would prove so insightful and delightful? Sure, yes, this is set in the fourth year of WWII and things are bad. Really bad and not looking up at all. And Miss Roach is depressed and numbed by it all. But she does rise up again and again and in small and fascinating ways. Hers is a fighting though polite spirit. And that's really the story...Miss Roach fighting her way through the quixotic world...more
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He was born Anthony Walter Patrick Hamilton in the Sussex village of Hassocks, near Brighton, to writer parents. Due to his father's alcoholism and financial ineptitude, the family spent much of Hamilton's childhood living in boarding houses in Chiswick and Hove. His education was patchy, and ended just after his fifteenth birthday when his mother withdrew him from Westminster School.

After a brief...more
More about Patrick Hamilton...
Hangover Square Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky The Gorse Trilogy: The West Pier, Mr Stimpson And Mr Gorse, Unknown Assailant Rope: A Play Gas Light

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“The meal was breakfast: the subject, utility clothing. 'As for the stuff they're turning out for men nowadays,' said Mr Thwaites bitterly, 'I wouldn't give it to my Valet.'

Mr Thwaites' valet was quite an old friend. An unearthly, flitting presence, whose shape, character, age, and appearance could only be dimly conceived, he had been turning up every now and again ever since Miss Roach had known Mr Thwaites. Mostly he was summoned into being as one from whom all second-rate, shoddy, or inferior articles were withheld. But sometimes things were good enough for Mr Thwaites' valet, but would not do for Mr Thwaites. ”
“He had further narrowed his mind by a considerable amount of travel abroad, where he had again always made his way to the small hotels.” 1 likes
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