In Craven House, among the shifting, uncertain world of the English boarding house, with its sad population of the shabby genteel on the way down and the eternal optimists who would never get up or on the young Patrick Hamilton, with loving, horrified fascination, first mapped out the territory that he would make, uniquely, his own.
Although many of Hamilton's lifelong interests are here, they are handled with a youthful brio and optimism conspicuously absent from his later work. The inmates of Craven House have their foibles, but most are indulgently treated by an author whose world view has yet to harden from scepticism into cynicism.
The generational conflicts of Hamilton's own youth thread throughout the narrative, with hair bobbing and dancing as the battle lines. That perennial of the 1920s bourgeoisie, the 'servant problem', is never far from the surface, and tensions crescendo gradually to a resolution one climactic dinnertime.
Patrick Hamilton was born in 1904, and achieved early success as a novelist and playwright, his first novel published in his early twenties. Craven House was his second novel, and he wrote several other novels and a play, Rope, before he was thirty. Both Rope and another play, Gaslight, were adapted for the big screen, the former by Alfred Hitchcock. His novels include The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure, The Plains of Cement (a trilogy later published together under the title Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky), Hangover Square, The Slaves of Solitude and the three novels that form The Gorse Trilogy. He died in 1962, aged fifty-eight, alcoholism undoubtedly a factor in his early death. Keith Waterhouse called Patrick Hamilton 'a riveting dissector of English life up to and including the war'.
‘The entertainment value of this brilliantly told story could hardly be higher’
'Hamilton is a master at reproducing the inflated talk of betrayed lives'
'Hamilton has made himself the satirist and the poet of the semisubmerged, the second-rate and the shoddy.'
‘His finest work can easily stand comparison with the best of his more celebrated contemporaries George Orwell and Graham Greene.’
Nigel Jones's introduction sets the scene, placing the novel in the context both of its author's life and its historical period. Nigel is author of Through a Glass Darkly: The Life of Patrick Hamilton (also published by Black Spring).
Paperback 256pp, ISBN 978-0-948238-40-6; £9.95