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The Slaves of Solitude
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Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
A thread to discuss...

The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

Patrick HamiltonThe Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

The novel is set in 1943 in the fictional town of Thames Lockden (based on Henley-on-Thames), and largely follows the experiences of Miss Roach who lives in the Rosamund Tea Rooms, a guest house, having left London during the Blitz. Also residing at the guest house are Mr Thwaites (described as the 'President in Hell'), Miss Steele, Miss Barrett (both aging spinsters) and Mr Prest (a retired comedian).

Looking forward to your thoughts, comments and queries.


Susan | 264 comments Loved the setting, time period and characters. I think the author perfectly caught that real nastiness that sometimes occurs between women sometimes in enclosed places (workplaces, colleges, etc)! It was really a very evocative picture of WWII peacetime life as well, with all the restrictions and inconveniences.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Loved the setting, time period and characters. "

Yes. It's my favourite era (early 20th Century up to c1950) and setting (South East England). The characters are amazing. The boarding house is a great environment to see them up close and personal (see also Craven House for another slice of Patrick Hamilton's take on boarding house life).

Can you imagine how claustrophobic and constricting it would be to live in such an environment?

Susan wrote: "I think the author perfectly caught that real nastiness that sometimes occurs between women sometimes in enclosed places (workplaces, colleges, etc)! "

Yes, I'd not really thought about this aspect having focused more on the Thwaites v Roach conflict but I suppose that's right. To what extent do you think Thwaites was responsible for the animosity between the women and to what extent was it a result of the nastiness that sometimes occurs between women?

Susan wrote: "It was really a very evocative picture of WWII peacetime life as well, with all the restrictions and inconveniences. "

Absolutely. One reason why it rings so true is because of Patrick Hamilton's gift for observation and getting those observations down onto the page. JB Priestly apparently used to call him "bat ears" because of his knack for hearing and remembering people's way of expressing themselves and some of their exact words. Having read a biography of Hamilton I now know that most of his stories are to one degree or another autobiographical and so I think we can assume that the characters in The Slaves Of Solitude are to some degree based on real people - and I think that authenticity shines through in this book.


message 4: by Susan (last edited Mar 18, 2013 09:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susan | 264 comments Oh, I think the nastiness with Vicki began before she entered the boarding house, although obviously the tensions with Mr Thwaites did not help, did it? Mr Thwaites probably could have been 'managed' better by Miss Roach, but I admired her for not falling into that trap of pandering to him. I used to work with a Mr Thwaites!


message 5: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val I think we have all met a Mr Thwaites, but most of us are lucky enough not to have to spend every mealtime with him. I agree with Susan, Vicki is nasty before she enters the boarding house, but her unpleasantness escalates after she moves in.
Patrick Hamilton is very observant of speech patterns, mannerisms and behaviour. I like the way he builds up a series of inconveniences, indignities, privations and unpleasantnesses to make the wartime boarding house life a little hell. Any one of them could be brushed off, but collectively they become unbearable.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "Oh, I think the nastiness with Vicki began before she entered the boarding house, although obviously the tensions with Mr Thwaites did not help, did it? Mr Thwaites probably could have been 'managed' better by Miss Roach, but I admired her for not falling into that trap of pandering to him. I used to work with a Mr Thwaites! "

I think that's probably right. I plan to re-read this book as I can't recall exactly how things deteriorated between Vicki and Miss Roach - but feel sure that she was clearly not very nice to have so quickly got into cahoots with the appalling Mr Thwaites.

Working with a Mr Thwaites!? Ouch, that must have been dreadful.

Val wrote: Patrick Hamilton is very observant of speech patterns, mannerisms and behaviour. I like the way he builds up a series of inconveniences, indignities, privations and unpleasantnesses to make the wartime boarding house life a little hell. Any one of them could be brushed off, but collectively they become unbearable. "

Absolutely. And may I add that you expressed all that in a wonderfully eloquent manner Val.

I wonder sometimes if he didn't over egg Mr Thwaites a bit. Would the character have had the same power and humour if Patrick Hamilton had reigned him in a bit?


Susan | 264 comments The funny thing about Mr Thwaites is that, like the one I worked with, everyone loathed him - he literally drove everyone mad - but when he left suddenly, moved by the powers that be, he was missed. Like poor Mr Thwaites, once you are removed from the irritation of such people, they suddenly seem more pathetic than anything else.

Vicki, you feel, would have gone into cahoots with anybody. She enjoyed being vicious behind the backs of other people (other women rather) and knew exactly what she was up to. Patrick Hamilton was remarkably observant. I think he really got the atmosphere of a place perfectly - the rowdy bars Miss Roach could not wait to leave, the terrible dining room, the claustophobic room she stayed in, etc. Perfectly written.


message 8: by Val (last edited Mar 19, 2013 09:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val Thank you Nigeyb.

Mr Thwaites was pathetic too, towards the end, wasn't he? He was a bigot and a bully, but also stupid and made to look ridiculous at times. He wouldn't have been funny without the exaggeration and the 'trothing'. It made a contrast between his behaviour and Vicki's. They both persecuted Miss Roach, but Vicki was not stupid or humourous and so her persecution came across as more malicious than his.

PS It made me smile to notice that his newspaper of choice was "The Daily Mail".


message 9: by Nigeyb (last edited Mar 19, 2013 09:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Some really interesting and astute observations on here. I think I ought to highlight this thread on BYT in case these points don't get raised in April when we BYT'ers read the book - and for anyone else who can't wait to start the discussion before April.

Susan wrote: "Like poor Mr Thwaites, once you are removed from the irritation of such people, they suddenly seem more pathetic than anything else. "

Absolutely - and that's what happened in the book too. I actually felt sorry for him at the end despite his appalling behaviour.

Susan wrote: "Vicki, you feel, would have gone into cahoots with anybody. She enjoyed being vicious behind the backs of other people (other women rather) and knew exactly what she was up to. "

Sadly, all true.

Susan wrote: "Patrick Hamilton was remarkably observant. I think he really got the atmosphere of a place perfectly - the rowdy bars Miss Roach could not wait to leave, the terrible dining room, the claustophobic room she stayed in, etc. Perfectly written. "

The sound of Susan hitting the nail on the head. It's what I like most about his writing. The note perfect ring of authenticity. That, and the way he writes about ordinary people who often aren't captured with Hamilton's level of clarity and accuracy.

Val wrote: "Mr Thwaites was pathetic too, towards the end, wasn't he? He was a bigot and a bully, but also stupid and made to look ridiculous at times. He wouldn't have been funny without the exaggeration and the 'trothing'."

I suppose not. I smiled immediately I read "trothing".

Val wrote: "It made a contrast between his behaviour and Vicki's. They both persecuted Miss Roach, but Vicki was not stupid or humourous and so her persecution came across as more malicious than his. "

It's strange, but before this discussion, I had Mr Thwaites as the more appalling character - but you and Susan have convinced me that actually Vicki is worse. She was certainly more duplicitous. At least with Thwaites what you see is what you get. Vicki's deceptiveness and untrustworthiness is more reprehensible that the tragi-comic Thwaites.

How about his for a great deconstruction of Mr Thwaites' character and behaviour. I found it here, and it's written by David Lodge from a 2007 article from The Guardian entitled "Boarding-house blues" (which is well worth a read in its entirety):

Mr Thwaites is a great comic creation, who has the tireless malice and negative energy of Dickens's villains - Quilp, Fagin, Squeers, Bounderby, Pecksniff. Not that Thwaites commits any crime, or inflicts any physical pain on his victim, Miss Roach. He tortures her purely through language, through the manipulation and exploitation of the conventions of polite conversation which apply to middle-class communal eating. Hamilton is a master of what linguists call pragmatics and philosophers call speech act theory and theatrical directors call "Actions", all based on the principle that every utterance, however trivial, is not only saying something, but doing something to the addressee, by tone, by implication, allusion, or by some other means. What Mr Thwaites is invariably doing to Miss Roach is bullying her; by, for example, forcing her to deny things which she has never affirmed in order to extricate herself from false imputations. By this means he exerts control over her. Thus the first remark he addresses to her at table in the novel is: "'Your friends seem to be mightily distinguishing themselves as usual,' and oh God, thought Miss Roach, not that again, not that again."

This remark is Mr Thwaites' way of referring to Russian victories on the eastern front. He himself was an admirer of Hitler before the war, and is rabidly opposed to communism; the success of the Russian armies in the Allied cause is therefore a source of displeasure to him, though he dare not admit as much, so he seeks to dissociate himself from it by gratuitously associating the Russians with Miss Roach, while at the same time devaluing it by the dismissive phrase, "as usual". Miss Roach attempts to counter this move, which she understands very well, by remaining silent, but Mr Thwaites insists on repeating it, so the code of polite conversation forces her to reply, first by pretending not to understand: "Who're my friends?" "Your Russian friends," says Thwaites. "They're not my friends," says Miss Roach, "any more than anybody else." And when Mrs Barratt, who shares the table, comes to her support by saying, "You must admit they're putting up a wonderful fight, Mr Thwaites", he replies, "Oh yes ... They're putting up a fight all right."

His omission of Mrs Barratt's epithet, "wonderful", is full of implication: "the savage and sombre way in which he said this suggested that they were not putting up a fight as other and decent people would, or that they were only doing so because they jolly well had to, or that their motives were of a kind which he did not care to make public". Then, as he usually does when his argumentative strategy is blocked, Mr Thwaites proceeds to torture his victims indirectly by torturing the English language, making remarks in a ghastly idiolect full of phoney archaism, stage dialect, threadbare cliché and proverbial bromides: "I Keeps My Counsel ... like the Wise Old Bird ... I Hay ma Doots ... as the Scotsman said ... Of Yore." It is equally impossible to reply to these remarks either in their own style or in normal English, so the listeners are obliged to endure them in silence as long as the meal lasts, and at every meal. "Now, after more than a year of it, Mr Thwaites was president in hell."


President in hell - I'd forgotten that. Perfect.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
We're debating this book over at the Bright Young Things group this month, so I thought I'd publish a post I made there over here too, to add a bit of additionally content on this thread. Here it is:

How does the book explore the nature of war?

Susan wrote: "I thought the book explored war at home very well...."

You make some very good points about the uncertainly of life during bombing raids.

I think the book also explores war through the battle being waged at The Rosamund Tea Rooms. Would it be overstating it to suggest that the larger battle between Nazism and democracy was, on one level, a war between good and evil, and in the same way, the battle taking place at The Rosamund Tea Rooms was this in microcosm?

The other aspect of war that the novel references is the the realities of day-to-day life in Britain during WW2. Although Miss Roach generally just skims the headlines to see who is winning, she notices the impact:

"....the war was slowly, cleverly, month by month, week by week, emptying the shelves of the shops -- sneaking cigarettes from the tobacconists, sweets from the confectioners, paper, pens and envelopes from the stationers, fittings from the hardware stores, beer from the public houses, and so on endlessly -- while at the same time gradually removing crockery from the refreshment bars, railings from familar places, means of transport from the streets, accommodation from the hotels, and sitting or even standing room on the trains."


What role does Mr Prest play in the story?

Mr Prest sits silently alone at mealtimes and then disappears off to the West End to socialise with his theatrical friends. His presence provides a detached, objective view of Thwaites' intrusive idiocy within the story. Although the other guests remain unaware of Prest's views, we know he perceives them (and, of course, with the exception of Miss Roach) "with the disdain of an original and educated man who had seen life for small-town ignoramuses too confined and paltry in their outlook to take seriously for a moment."


What was your favourite Mr Thwaites' quotation (or quotations)?

Here's one for now, and from the early part of the book....

"She goeth, perchance, unto the coffee house, there to partake of the noxious brown fluid with her continental friends?"

This of course when Miss Roach is still friends with the "continental" Vicki Kugelman - who also manages to use some mangled, faux-idiomatic English (e.g. "You must learn to be sporty, Miss Prude").


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Selected quotes from an article from yesterday's Daily Telegraph that refer to "The Slaves Of Solitude:

Then there are the genteel characters who live out their days in boarding houses, such as the Craven House that gives its name to a novel written in 1926, or the Rosamund Tea Rooms – what a name! – in which the magnificent Slaves of Solitude (1947) is set. These grim lodgings are portrayed as de facto prisons, in which people politely squeak out their internal agonies.

The Rosamund Tea Rooms is “this apparent mortuary of desire and passion”, in which meals take place in a “lift-rumbling, knife-fork-and-plate silence”. Presiding over it is Mr Thwaites, a comic creation of unspeakable demonic vigour, a secret admirer of Hitler, who “resounded, nasally and indefatigably, with a steady health and virility”, and who speaks in a relentlessly lunatic idiom that Hamilton may be said to have patented:

“ 'I Keeps my Counsel,’ said Mr Thwaites, in his slow treacly voice. 'Like the Wise Old Owl, I Sits and Keeps my Counsel.’ ”

Hamilton’s greatness is in this sui generis style of his, which synthesises so completely with subject matter that the reader is trapped, squarely and squirmingly, inside the heads of the equally trapped characters. He is repetitive, detailed, obsessional. Lengthy conversations are had over the meaning of the words: “'Oh well…’ 'Oh well what?’ 'Oh, well, one often says ''Oh well’’ – doesn’t one?’ 'Does one?’”

By Laura Thompson - 20 Apr 2013



Beth (bibliobeth) | 2 comments Hi everyone, I think the tension was there between the two women right from the beginning - when Miss Roach meets her in the Rising Sun, their dialogue and Miss Roach's interior monologue suggests that she does not trust her at all.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "Hi everyone, I think the tension was there between the two women right from the beginning - when Miss Roach meets her in the Rising Sun, their dialogue and Miss Roach's interior monologue suggests that she does not trust her at all."

Thanks Elizabeth. I'll have to re-read that section. The way I remember it is that Miss Roach feels sorry for Vicki Kugelman and so takes her under her wing. I don't remember the initial distrust. Thanks. I'm going to reread it again soon.


message 14: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val I think both are true, Miss Roach feels sorry for Vicki because she is even more displaced and alone than Miss Roach is herself, but always has some reservations about her and tries to keep their meetings away from the rest of her life. She is undecided whether to tell Vicki about the possibility of a vacant room in the boarding house for example, then she has a debate with herself about whether Vicki's behaviour is simply due to her being a foreigner and not knowing English ways, in spite of living there for several years, then the reservations and distrust develop into dislike and hatred.


Beth (bibliobeth) | 2 comments Good points Val. What did everyone think of the ending?


David | 862 comments Must. Read. Again.

Thanks for the prompts!

David


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Elizabeth wrote: "Good points Val. What did everyone think of the ending?"

I thought the ending was perfect. A brief respite for Miss Roach and, in a sense, justice was done.

David wrote: "Must. Read. Again.

Thanks for the prompts!

David"


Please do come back and post any thoughts, observations or questions once you've revisited the book.


message 18: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val I agree, the ending is perfect. Everything is wrapped up, but not too tidily packaged. Miss Roach is in a more optimistic frame of mind, but with the looming possibility of her being bombed out again, as the main blitz is imminent.


Jamie | 5 comments I enjoyed this book 5 years after reading it for the first time. I am mean with my ratings so 3/5 may seem low but I did bind it frustrating ! Poor old Roachy- she can't even be happy when she's living it up in Claridges! I think the stars are the people who get under her skin- I was waiting for Vicki to have a come down and I guess she does in being stuck at the guesthouse alone...she is also getting on a Bit and isn't far off the other spinsters. This book certainly improved on a second read an whilst slight is a nice addition to the Hamilton canon. "Impromptu" has been ordered today for the August read ! 3/5 standard rating 2/3 Hamilton score ;0)


message 20: by Nigeyb (last edited Jul 23, 2013 12:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Thanks Jamie.

I was interested by this comment...

Jamie wrote: " This book certainly improved on a second read an whilst slight is a nice addition to the Hamilton canon."

I think it's pretty substantial and not in the least slight. For me this book is second only to Hangover Square, and it runs it a close second. So, with that in mind, I was wondering how you would rank it alongside the other Hamilton titles you have read.


Fionaonaona | 33 comments SoS is my favourite Hamilton book, I think his observation is so astute and his writing is at his absolute best. He conveys so well how badly affected we can be by our environment -- I am including human beings as part of the environment here.I thought the ending was neat, and I don't recall Miss Roach being miserable, but relieved and happy at being in a better place.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Fionaonaona wrote: "SoS is my favourite Hamilton book, I think his observation is so astute and his writing is at his absolute best."

I agree that it's Patrick at his best. Hangover Square or The Slaves of Solitude are both excellent and I find it hard to choose between them. Hangover is darker; whilst the darkness in SoS is leavened by some very humorous scenes. Both are directly and indirectly concerned with World War 2, and both, in my opinion, are masterpieces.


Jamie | 5 comments Hangover Sq is top of the pile and I would put the 3 20000 streets under the sky books next and possibly the Gorse novels above this one. However, I have only read hangover and slaves twice so may have to reevaluate. Prior to re-reading I had this with Craven house as my least favourite. It's a good solid book but I don't think it reaches the heights of any of the 20000 streets books.


message 24: by Nigeyb (last edited Jul 24, 2013 10:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Thanks Jamie - that's really interesting. I have yet to read Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky, however did watch the BBC adaptation which I thought was excellent. I cant wait to get to it. I must admit I thought Craven House was wonderful too. For me, so far, the only two that have been anything less than excellent were the final Gorse book "Unknown Assailant" (The Gorse Trilogy: The West Pier, Mr Stimpson And Mr Gorse, Unknown Assailant), and Twopence Coloured.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Patrick gets a name check from Sarah Waters here:


Patrick Hamilton is a sort of 20th-century George Gissing, preoccupied with the frustrations and lonely passions of “ordinary” life. His hilarious The Slaves of Solitude, with its minute depiction of petty rivalry and thwarted ambition in an overcrowded Second World War lodging-house, was a joy to re-read.

A joy to re-read. Now there's an idea.


message 26: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg | 159 comments I'm on page 50 of The Slaves of Solitude so I haven't encountered Vicky yet. After reading this thread I have some serious trepidation about reading on, as Mr Thwaites has got me in that dining room. I'm wondering if it's being Australian that I'd just tell Thwaites straight to put a cheesy sock in it, no English reserve, or have English readers or other Nationalities fantasised about telling him where to go?. Patrick Hamilton certainly knows how to get a reader going. Great writer. The Slaves of Solitude is the second book of his I'm reading. The first, Hangover Square was flawless. A wonderful book. Vicky sounds like another Netta.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
^ Thanks Greg.


Wonderful to know you enjoyed Hangover Square, and The Slaves Of Solitude has started well for you.

Thwaites is a bully and in some ways deserves everything he gets however you might feel some different emotions by the end. I look forward to your thoughts when you've finished it.

Greg wrote: "Vicky sounds like another Netta."

Definitely some parallels - but also many differences too. Again, I will be very interested in your thoughts as you get further into the book.


Peter | 46 comments Like Greg, I am slowly working my way through the Patrick Hamilton canon and have just finished The Slaves of Solitude which I thoroughly enjoyed. Soup, warm spam & mashed potatoes, jam tart - lovely!

One curious point. Despite the author describing her as blonde and blue-eyed, Vicki I had assumed to be Jewish. The vast majority of Germans in the UK during the war were Jewish exiles and Kugelmann is a Jewish surname (though perhaps not exclusively so?)...but the anticipated revelation never came. Jewish or not, it was still an odd fictional move to introduce a German into the Rosamund Tea Rooms in 1943 and then make her thoroughly unsympathetic.

Anyway, review at: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
^ I really enjoyed reading your review Peter, and agree an unsympathetic German is an unusual idea. I thought perhaps Vicki and Thwaites symbolised Nazism with their bullying behaviour? Not unlike Peter and Netta in Hangover Square.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
^ Oops. I meant to say an unsympathetic German during WW2. I think I posted the comment on my phone so was not as clear as I could, and should, have been.

For what it's worth, I've really liked every single German person I've ever met!


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Or did I mean sympathetic? Even I'm confused now.


message 32: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val Aren't the humourless German villains mainly in films rather than books? Or am I reading different books?


message 33: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val Right, joke stereotypes, where they are all obsessed with towels and getting naked.


message 34: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg | 159 comments I forgot to get back with my thoughts once I'd finished this book. The Slaves of Solitude is every bit as good as Hangover square. I enjoyed both books very much. Hamilton can write such vivid characters. I even forgot to type up a review.

I had put in a request to the library for some Hamilton titles, these two I suggested as highly recommended, which the library acquired.
I have recommended these books to several friends, all of which were born in Britain and now call Australia home.
One of the friends who is at present holidaying in England said before leaving that after reading Hangover Square he was going to sit in London pubs and read some Hamilton.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
Greg wrote: "One of the friends who is at present holidaying in England said before leaving that after reading Hangover Square he was going to sit in London pubs and read some Hamilton. "

The perfect way to read Hamilton I'll wager.


message 36: by Greg (last edited Aug 18, 2014 04:35PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg | 159 comments Here's my review which I eventually typed up.

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 in making the heroine of this story the lovable Miss Roach, a reader of manuscripts for a publisher. 

The characters
Miss Enid Roach, single, aged thirty nine.
Mr Thwaites, her nemesis.
Mr Prest, he's been 'sent to Coventry'. An interesting character in the story.
Vicki Kugelmann, a German immigrant. 
Mrs Payne
Miss Steele
Mrs Barratt
Sheila
Lieutenant Dayton Pike, the American officer.
Lieutenant Lummis, another American officer.
Albert Brent
Mrs Poulton
John Poulton, her son.
Mrs Crewe
Mr Lindsell, Miss Roach's boss.

The Slaves of Solitude is a very different story to Hangover Square but they have the same structure, ie: Miss Roach / George Bone, Mr Thwaites and Vicki / Netta and Peter. The same formula to enhance and emphasize the isolation of the main character, it's the two against one structure, Patrick Hamilton say's it himself - "it was the two against one business that got Miss Roach." A reserved, considerate, good natured person, Miss Roach has to endure on a daily basis, usually at meal times which makes it worse, the rude and inconsiderate personalities of the bully Thwaites, and Vicki, "a pernicious rude woman". The constant drinking element is supplied by the American Lieutenant Pike.

When Mr Prest is ostracised, he turns the tables and 'sends the Rosamund Tea Rooms to Coventry'. The turn of events between Mr Prest and Miss Roach later in the story was an enjoyable element. The Rosamund residents had no idea what an interesting and colourful past Mr Prest has led. 
The scene of Miss Steele and Mrs Barratt's comparison of the cemetery and the park, a nice piece of writing there.

Miss Roach is well drawn and likable, although she has underlying expectations of others in the boarding house. Being an intelligent woman, surely she has the smarts or guile to turn Thwaits' attacks back on himself. There is something implausible with this aspect of the story. When Thwaites asks a loaded question, like "Where's 'your' American friend?" or 'your' Russian friends are doing well, why wouldn't Miss Roach reply "why do you ask?" or just ignore him, or better still, start parodying his pathetic Trothing?
Is the gentile polite behaviour in this book specific to the WWII era or could this tale still happen today in Britain?

I enjoyed this book and I engaged with the characters. Hamilton is a master at tripping our wires with personalities like Mr Thwaites and Co. 'Didst thou hear these verses?' I was inspired to pen an ode, an Ode to the Odious Mr  Thwaites, or The Loathing of the Trothing. Not for publication.
If you've read the book, why not have a go at writing an ode.
Mr Thwaites' 'trothing' displays a part of his personality which never grew up, still emotionally juvenile, using affected 'trothing' language and putting on Scottish accents. 
This behaviour is covered in Orwell's essay 'Boys Weeklies'. Boys comics from early in the century were hugely popular, containing a regular supply of silly expressions and funny accents. The comics were shamelessly aimed at a 'snob-appeal'. 

Could the author have expanded and fleshed out more background of the characters like Mr Thwaites? Why did he choose to only pick on Enid Roach, did he secretly fancy her?

Mr Thwaites, "like all complete fools, he was anything but a fool".
I can't tell if this a straight story or a farce. The book jacket cover says it 'is one of the finest and funniest books ever written about the trials of a lonely heart.' Is it a send-up of English reserve and gentility? Like Fawlty Towers?

The Slaves of Solitude is geared to the wartime patriotic spirit.
Vicki, who is German, and Mr Thwaites are both Nazi apologists, even sympathizers.

There is a satisfactory ending to the story for our heroine, the lovely Miss Enid Roach. And I feel sure the lovely lady who read the manuscript of The Slaves of Solitude at the publishers thought so too.


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
^ Thanks Greg. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the book, which I broadly agree with.


Picking up on a couple of your questions...

Greg wrote: "Is the genteel polite behaviour in this book specific to the WWII era or could this tale still happen today in Britain?"

A bit of both. The tale would be far less plausible today as, in general, British people are less socially inhibited, however the British rarely say exactly what is on their mind, preferring to avoid conflict and unpleasantness than be straight talking.

Greg wrote: "Is it a send-up of English reserve and gentility? Like Fawlty Towers?"

Not really. More a simple tale of a classic bully meeting a very nice, but very meek, person who would rather endure the bullying than create a scene.

Greg wrote: "I can't tell if this a straight story or a farce."

A straight story. The comedy, such as it is, comes from the monstrous excesses of Thwaites. The comedy is also very dark, with clear parallels between Thwaites and the Nazis.


message 38: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg | 159 comments Many thanks Nigeyb for helping clarify those points.

Some of my oldest and best friends are from England and I thought I knew the English sensibility better than I actually must, which I realise from reading English fiction, particularly books from an earlier generation. Film or TV doesn't have the nuance that literature has, which is hard to gauge sometimes.

Do you, like I have to, remind yourself while read a book like 'Slaves' with characters like Thwaites, that this is fiction?

Re; preferring to avoid conflict and unpleasantness than be straight talking. Being Australian, we're straight up and blunt, ha ha. Sir Les Patterson is not that far off the mark.

Bit of trivia, I just discovered that our current PM was born in London. The previous PM was born in Wales. The previous one was Labor, The current one is Tory. You give us prime ministers, we give you media barons.


David | 862 comments Want your media baron back, sport?


message 40: by Nigeyb (last edited Aug 19, 2014 07:03AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
^ Seconded David.


Greg, the table in this article (which often crops up on Facebook etc.) whilst humorous is actually a good illustration of how British people don't say what they mean...

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newst...

My personal favourite is...

"That is a very brave proposal" - British statement
"You are insane" - what the British person means
"He thinks I have courage" - what the foreigner understands


message 41: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg | 159 comments David and Nigeyb, no, no, you keep the change.

Nigeyb, thanks, the telegraph article is fabulous, too funny. They're all great. It's hilarious that the list was drawn up by the Dutch.


message 42: by Val (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val That is an insightful and individual take on the book Greg, which I enjoyed, so thanks for that.
I think that one of the main reasons why Miss Roach will not challenge Mr. Thwaites is because she knows she will have to keep sitting at a table with him for every meal. There is a claustrophobic aspect to the Tea Rooms and any retaliation would lead to a confrontation, which is to be avoided at all cost. Britain has changed since then, but there is still a strange way of not quite saying what we mean, particularly if it is insulting. If you have ever realised that someone was actually being rude to you hours after the conversation, then they were probably British, middle-class and avoiding a confrontation.


David | 862 comments I don't want to stray too far from the fiction into socio-psychology, but within our family recently, Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach has been the subject of some discussion, prompted by our Dorset holiday and a visit to the Jursassic Coast.

I read it two years ago and thought it was marvellous. My daughter (nearly 24) didn't enjoy it. My son-in-law (mid-30s) didn't like it at all.

The Independent review of the book sums up much of what has been said about the British tendency to skirt issues, maintaining politeness and avoiding discord:


A fine book, homing in with devastating precision on a kind of Englishness which McEwan understands better than any other living writer, the Englishness of deceit, evasion, repression and regret. (I gave up my innate Caledonian bristling at the conflation of "British" and "English" a long time ago)

Perhaps this is a clue to a generational shift, if not in manners, in the acceptance that such non-confrontational uber-politeness is now routinely satirised and lampooned?


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
David wrote: "Perhaps this is a clue to a generational shift, if not in manners, in the acceptance that such non-confrontational uber-politeness is now routinely satirised and lampooned?"

Interesting thought. My kids are just a bit too young to provide any kind of benchmark on a possible generational shift. I'd guess, at the very least, there's a heightened awareness of British doublespeak, whether that translates into greater individual transparency, I doubt.

I know someone, a woman who has behaved atrociously in the past, but whose daughter is friends with my daughter. I did have one memorable confrontation with her but now, when asked why I make no effort to socialise with her, evade the issue. It is too tricky for me to spell out my true feelings and easier to be evasive. I tell myself that it's because my daughter is friends with her daughter however actually this is also because I would not relish having to be blunt and to the point. I'm not sure where that gets us, but having typed it all out I am not going to delete it all.

Moving on to Val's comments above, I think she is spot on, in terms of Miss Roach having share a table with with Thwaites at every meal. As in my example, when there's an ongoing relationship I think there's usually a compelling reason for discretion to be the better part of valour.


Peter | 46 comments David quoted The Independent: "...a kind of Englishness which McEwan understands better than any other living writer, the Englishness of deceit, evasion, repression and regret."

That's a surprise. I would have thought Kazuo Ishiguro had the measure of that kind of Englishness - certainly in The Remains Of The Day. But I confess I have not yet read McEwan.

The Remains of the Day is set in the past, however, and I think this kind of Englishness substantially disappeared in the 1950s and early 1960s. Boarding houses too must have disappeared at about the same time, the rooms converted into bed-sits. Miss Roach would have been in a bed-sit in the 1960s...probably listening at the door for fear of meeting Mr Thwaites in the hallway.

Reading Slaves of Solitude brought back memories of a tea room occasionally visited as a child. It was in the cavernous basement of a museum, had brass urns and fittings, sandwiches (possibly spam) under glass domes, custard slices and fancies on tiered cake stands, and elderly ladies in maid's costumes to bring you your poached egg on toast. The library silence was broken only by the hissing of the tea urns. A treat.


David | 862 comments Thanks Peter, I must read The Remains of the Day.

I concur about tearooms and bedsits and would have loved to have seen an episode of The Liver Birds featuring Thwaites as a neighbour.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/liverbirds/

My daughter stayed with us last night with a couple of lovely American friends who love the British tradition of understatement and conflict-avoidance. I have forwarded Nigey's Daily Telegraph link to them, which I'm sure they are enjoying.

What was Roger Waters's line on Dark Side Of The Moon? "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way"? I think that sums up The Slaves Of Solitude and much of Hamilton's forensically-incisive writing about fading gentility.


message 47: by Val (last edited Aug 21, 2014 05:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Val The Tea Rooms is a temporary boarding house for people bombed out or escaping the bombing and it would not have lasted once most of the residents found somewhere permanent to live after the war. Miss Roach had her own flat, Mr. Prest would usually have been travelling with a group of fellow entertainers and staying in lodgings with them, Vicki Klugelman might have gone back to Germany or ensnared an American soldier and gone to the USA. Mr. Thwaites might have continued living in boarding houses, if he had continued living, (as might the more elderly ladies), but he would not have had his captive audience.


message 48: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg | 159 comments This is a great discussion, defining what is the English character, or Englishness. It got me re-reading Orwell' essay 'England Your England'. He talks about National characteristics, and accepted generalisations about England, (in 1941) which today, to me, are laughable. A quick example. 'The English are not gifted artistically'. 'Not as musical as the Germans or Italians'. 'Painting and sculpture have never flourished in England as they have in France.'
Just on the music point, what would be the export earnings for England since the 'sixties from music?


Nigeyb | 3937 comments Mod
^ Good question. I suggest we upped our game on the music front since George was writing his article.


message 50: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg | 159 comments And across the board, all the arts, Nigeyb, if any of the generalizations were true in the first place. On examination, how do some of these get traction to start with. Take another example: painting. When Monet moved to London, the paintings by Joshua Turner blew him away.


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