42. Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton (1941)

Easily one of the bleakest books on this list, Hangover Square is a beautifully written, tightly controlled outburst of anguish by a man who, shall we say, knew the territory rather too well. If you’ve read this far, you’ll know that the mid-century boarding house milieu is one of my favourites, and this book captures the seediness, anonymity and despair of brown lino, boiled cabbage and creaky stairs better than any other. The central character, the deeply troubled George Harvey Bone, nurses a painful obsession for a thoroughly unpleasant young woman, Netta, whom he knows only as a drinking companion. Netta extracts as much money and liquor out of Bone as she can, leads him astray on a nightmare trip to Brighton and finally betrays him just once too often. I won’t reveal the plot, because, among other things, Hangover Square is an excellent thriller. I love Hamilton’s other novels too – notably The Slaves of Solitude and Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky – as well as his plays which include Gaslight and Rope. Recently I discovered that he drank himself to death in the seaside town where my mother lives; I like to walk by the house whenever I’m down there, and raise an imaginary glass.

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