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 serif fonts for the résumés they plan on submitting to more vote-profitable, stable review-writing empires. (i.e., Ben Harrison, Inc.) This anemic QC department now entirely fails to reign in my autobiographical tangents, self-indulgent ramblings, and dadaist excursions into logical non sequiturs. Before an overseas venture buys me out and shutters me for good, I'd like to apologize for the overall lack of quality of late (relatively speaking, of course -- I've always been idiotically digressive). I've pumped out more shit in last couple months than a man with ebola, I.B.S., and a penchant for White Castle. (2) This particular book is just doggone hard to review because whenever I hear the voices in my head talking about it, describing it, alluding to its many charms, I think, 'Ach! How boring.' In other words, it doesn't really sound like a very good book, although it is. So how do I attempt to manage a P.R. blitz that'll make you wanna haul your keister over to your nearest upholstered device of assisted recumbency and read this fucker? (Incidentally, I didn't know how to spell 'keister' and since I had Wikipedia open, I used that to find the spelling. This delivered me via detour to the entry for 'buttocks' which prominently displayed nude examples of the male and female varieties thereof. Tangentially, I'd like to confess that I wish my buttocks were beautiful enough to be a butt model. It's one of those little dreams you stow away in a heart-shaped locket and don't tell anyone about.)
Okay. Here goes. So The Slaves of Solitude, although it deals with lots of stuff (helpful, eh?), could be classified in that tentative genre of boarding house horror. Not horror in the sense of machete-wielding sociopaths and discordant notes played on a piano followed by *surprise* evisceration. This is psychological horror. For my money, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne kind of closed the book definitely on this genre... until now.
I never ever ever ever ever want to live in a boarding house -- and by logical extension in one of those stupid hippie commune houses where everyone pools their money from their jobs at the incense store and grows vegetables using refortified, sustainable, organic feces and then gets into a fist fight about who gets to eat the last Pop Tart because there's no individual property (and because modern 'hippies' are really, really dumb).
I mean, basically your average English boarding house experience (insofar as I can glean from literature) is just a variant on the Sartre No Exit scenario. A bunch of people forced to eat scones and tea together until they're completely psychologically terrorized by the very existence of each other. Take Mr. Thwaites from this book, for example. He's this old crusty irritating dude who, during WWII, retains some residual German sympathies (at the expense of those commie Russians, of course) and enjoys making all sorts of loud, snide remarks while you're trying to spread your marmalade. Also, he seems to dislike women for the most part (the main character Miss Roach in particular) until this cunty German woman named Vicki Kugelmann moves into the boarding house and puts on her best Marlene Dietrich routine. So Miss Roach -- acting as a surrogate for you and me and as our psychological entryway into this novel -- loathes these two assholes, but is forced to remain all proper, stiff-upper-lipped, and indubitably British at the dinner table while these two flirt up a dust storm. Forget the fact that Vicki is catty and Thwaites is the Plato Form of crackpot curmudgeon... You just want to physically enter the novel, storm into that mouse-quiet dining room, and give those people a good bitch-slap. And if a novel makes you empathize that strongly with a character (Miss Roach) and viscerally despise two other characters so much that you want to come bounding through the Fourth Wall (Is it the Fourth Wall in literature too? Well, it is now.) and serve up a little comeuppance, then it's a success on anyone's scale, right? Luckily for us, (mini-spoiler) Miss Roach does the retaliatory deed for us. To a certain extent. Thank you, Miss Roach, and thank you, Patrick Hamilton.