Book Eleven: The Slaves of Solitude

The Slaves of Solitude, Patrick Hamilton

This is, by far, the best book I've read since the beginning of the year. It is the story of Enid Roach, a boarder at the Rosamund Tea Rooms in the fictional London suburb, Thames Lockdon, during the second World War. She, and many others, have fled the bombings of London for the tedium of the suburbs, though, by the end of the book, you get the sense that having bombs dropped on you in London may not be so bad after all. The boarding house is filled with the funniest, best-written characters I've read in years, including Mr. Thwaites (an older, pompous poop who speaks in silly voices, constantly attacks Miss Roach, and drives everyone else in the boarding house crazy), Vicki Kugelmann (a German expat who everyone presumes is a Nazi spy, and even though she isn't, comes close in her acts of evilness), and the American Lieutenant (who can't stop drinking or kissing girls).

Most of the dialogue with Mr. Thwaites really killed me. At meals he rambles on and on in his "Thwaitesian" speak, and at this point he's been going on for quite a while, when:

"I Hay ma Doots, that's all..." said Mr. Thwaites. "I Hay ma Doots..."

(He is not, though Miss Roach, going to add "as the Scotchman said," is he? Surely he is not going to add "as the Scotchman said"?)

"As the Scotchman said," said Mr. Thwaites. "Yes... I Hay ma Doots, as the Scotchman said--of Yore..."

(Only Mr. Thwaites, Miss Roach realised, could, as it were, have out-Thwaited Thwaites and brought "of Yore" from the bag like that.)

The book is filled with scenes like this, balanced with scenes of such uncomfortableness that you want out out out. Which is perfect for the book, and gives this feeling of being trapped in this horrible, bleak boarding house. I'm not sure how to sum up what happens, because it's not much in the the way of action, but is a huge amount in the way of human psychology and emotions. Which totally makes this book sounds super boring, but I will assure you that it's not.

I'm pleased that I was not fooled by a pretty cover (oh, what a pretty cover!) and the stamp of New York Review Books, as I was by Envy. It's probably also an opportune time to note that the NYRB is publishing one of my favorite books of all time, The Dud Avocado, in June. Up until now it's only been available from the UK, so I'm pleased that maybe more people will read it. So, there's two books for you to read now. Right now!


Anonymous 8e11curves said...

oh, dud avocado is one of my fave books & is a rare gem. i SO wish they'd make it a movie! will let you know when (if?) my bl0gspot is available (it's not publicly viewable thus far & i'm ?ing whether to allow RSS). i'm tempted to do a theme blog, but it takes time that i don't have! instead of writing ONLY about gardening/baking/etc, that stuff may be easier to include sometimes in a regular blog. jack-of-all-trades, master of none? perhaps, but it's still me. :-)

April 6, 2007 at 9:07 AM  
Blogger bellcurves said...

Yay! I'm getting my own copy of The Dud Avocado (cute cover). It'll arrive while I'm gone, but is something to look forward to upon returning to the US (that + Harry Potter in July). Hey PS, I don't have a feed out here, which is too bad if any of y'all are syndication snobs. But with a small, known circle of "fans" it probably doesn't matter b/c people probably don't access the old/other place via feed, either. Feeds just leave you open to g00gl!ng, and you know how I feel about that.

April 12, 2007 at 5:02 PM  
Blogger elspeth said...

Oh, I have been hearing, here and there, about The Dud Avocado, and I must say I'm curious...I'll have to give it a whirl.
I found your book project halfway into it, I suppose, and I'm really enjoying your entries on books read. I think I might have to try for 52 in 2008. Or perhaps start now with Fiscal Year 2007/2008?

July 30, 2007 at 5:49 AM  

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