Eileen's Reviews > The Slaves of Solitude

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton
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Dec 12, 08

bookshelves: britlit, war, nyrb
Read in December, 2008

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 successful character-based novels I've read in a long time.

Synopsis: Miss Roach, having been bombed out of London, lives in a horrible boarding house in the village of Thames Lockdon (a nice, understated symbolic name, since it's definitely locked down in a number of ways). The boarding house is dominated by Mr. Thwaites, who keeps Miss Roach under continual verbal assault, apparently just for a sense of small, useless power. So Miss Roach hopes for a positive change when an American lieutenant and a new acquaintance, Vicky Kugelmann, enter the boarding house circle.

The descriptive passages throughout the novel are strongly evocative. I have no trouble believing in the antiquated, decaying facades, the mismatched furniture, and the cheerless decor of Thames Lockdon. The sense of endless pressure, caused by these surroundings, social expectations, and the awareness of war, is the key not only to a sense of stultifying immobility, under which the characters feel they must Endure, as well as a need to lash out into unconventional or even scandalous behavior.

Even Miss Roach, a fairly conservative, intelligent character, is affected. The ensuing situation eventually leads her to react in a new and liberating way.

Miss Roach actually changes.






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