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Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky [Paperback]

Patrick Hamilton
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Book Description

May 19 2004 Vintage Classics
A timeless classic of sleazy London life in the 1930s, a world of streets, full of cruelty and kindness, comedy and pathos, where people emerge from cheap lodgings in Pimlico to pour out their passions, hopes and despair in pubs and bars.

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Review

"Hamilton was a marvellous novelist who's grossly neglected" -- Doris Lessing The Times "Patrick Hamilton wrote about pubs better than any other novelist... The wonderful 1935 trilogy, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, is set in a pub off the Euston Road. Every detail is spot on" Independent on Sunday "A complex study of failed hopes and disappointed love" Independent on Sunday "Patrick Hamilton was a writer's writer... Seen as touchstones by authors from J.B. Priestley to Iain Sinclair" The Times "Hamilton writes about street life with an honesty and lyricism, an absence of sentimentality or fetish for squalor, that should make nearly every hard-boiled writer hang his or her head in shame" -- Charles Taylor Salon

About the Author

Born in Hassocks, Sussex in 1904, Patrick Hamilton was the youngest of three children. His parents, Ellen and Bernard Hamilton were published authors -- Bernard had written historical books, Ellen two romantic novels. Hamilton was educated at Holland House School in Hove, Sussex, Colet Court in London, and Westminster School (1918-19). At the age of seventeen he began to work as an actor and assistant stage manager for Andrew Melville. He then changed his career and worked as a stenographer. He published his first novel Craven House in 1926 and within a few years established a wide readership for himself. His first theatrical success was Rope (1929) on which Alfred Hitchcock's film of the same name was based. Many novels followed, including Hangover Square, his trilogy of novels Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky and Slaves of Solitude, as well as radio dramas and plays, several of which were filmed, including Gaslight, starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. A celebrated 'bright young' novelist of the Twenties and Thirties, Hamilton was in tune with the times. Sadly, at the peak of his career in 1932, he was accidentally run over by a car, sustaining multiple fractures and requiring plastic surgery. The accident left him permanently disfigured and perhaps contributed to his later slide into alcoholism. Hamilton was married twice -- to Lois Martin in 1930 and then to Ursula Stewart in 1953. He died on 23 September, 1962.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vastly under-rated British fiction Dec 18 2001
Format:Paperback
In reality, this volume is a collection of three separate but related Hamilton novels from the late twenties-early thirties: The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure, and The Plains of Cement.
The first relates the story of a barman's obsession with a scheming prostitute, the second is a tale of a "nice girl"'s downfall through drink, and the final novel tells of a plain-looking barmaid's emotional turmoil when pursued by a much older man.
These themes, and the dialogue used by the characters, are inevitably dated. However, Hamilton's wonderfully compassionate writing make simple themes appear to be universal and timeless.
Indeed, loneliness, unrequited love, fear of rejection, unfulfilled dreams etc are components of the universal human experience. However, in Hamilton's hands, these components never result in full-blown despair. The characters are so resilient that there is always, even after the most appalling experience, a note of optimism.
Few British writers have written so eloquently about the simple dreams, modest personal ambitions and cultural limitations of ordinary people in what was then a rigid class society.
In particular, his insight into working class "pub culture" (in these novels and later works such as "Hangover Square" and "Slaves of Solitude") is extraordinary. Its a pity his "research" led to such heavy alcohol dependence, with its resultant impact upon his literary achievement!.
The three novels in "20,000 streets" are a great introduction to Hamilton, and along with his later more sophisticated work, make a case for a much belated re-appraisal of his place in 20th century British literature.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Midnight Bell - What a Pub April 18 2008
By Avid Reader & Beer Drinker - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It would be wonderful to walk into a pub, or bar inhabited by characters like the ones in these stories, and one can by reading the book. The characters are so well developed, their thoughts, language and conversations so exact that one finds it easy to relate to them and their circumstances. These characters are alive to the reader and these characters know themselves, and still, because of time (1929) and station (working class), cannot do much to improve their plight. Most men have been in a situation similar to Bob with Jenny, and if not, then they have missed both the highs and the anguish of unrequited love, but perhaps are better off in other ways. As I read about Bob, I thought this book should be required reading for young men just starting with romance. The three stories in this book are so real that the reader wants so badly to warn, and to help; if you open this book you will become involved in a new place at a different time with real people -- it won't be casual; it will be real: five stars are too few.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vastly under-rated British fiction Dec 18 2001
By chris shiels - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In reality, this volume is a collection of three separate but related Hamilton novels from the late twenties-early thirties: The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure, and The Plains of Cement.
The first relates the story of a barman's obsession with a scheming prostitute, the second is a tale of a "nice girl"'s downfall through drink, and the final novel tells of a plain-looking barmaid's emotional turmoil when pursued by a much older man.
These themes, and the dialogue used by the characters, are inevitably dated. However, Hamilton's wonderfully compassionate writing make simple themes appear to be universal and timeless.
Indeed, loneliness, unrequited love, fear of rejection, unfulfilled dreams etc are components of the universal human experience. However, in Hamilton's hands, these components never result in full-blown despair. The characters are so resilient that there is always, even after the most appalling experience, a note of optimism.
Few British writers have written so eloquently about the simple dreams, modest personal ambitions and cultural limitations of ordinary people in what was then a rigid class society.
In particular, his insight into working class "pub culture" (in these novels and later works such as "Hangover Square" and "Slaves of Solitude") is extraordinary. Its a pity his "research" led to such heavy alcohol dependence, with its resultant impact upon his literary achievement!.
The three novels in "20,000 streets" are a great introduction to Hamilton, and along with his later more sophisticated work, make a case for a much belated re-appraisal of his place in 20th century British literature.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Small Lives in the Plains of Cement March 28 2008
By The Ginger Man - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I had not come across these books or this author until I saw it on an Amazon recommendation but both are certainly worth knowing about. The 3 interrelated short novels include strong character studies and an atmospheric feeling for London between the wars. The main characters are 2 workers in a London pub and a prostitute; with a story fashioned around each.

The first concerns the strange and doomed attraction of a waiter for Jenny Maples, a London prostitute. Bob's backwards and forwards approach to her resembles that of Julian Sorrel in The Red and the Black while his inability to disengage from her after numerous attempts reminds the reader of the protagonist from Of Human Bondage. The second story explains how Jenny became a woman of the street. The final novel completes the triangle in telling the story of the waitress who secretly loves Bob. Spurned by his indifference, she puts up with the measured attentions of Mr. Eccles until she decides that she prefers loneliness to irritation. (Actually, Eccles is a minor character that is masterfully portrayed and another in a long literary line of memorable, eccentric English supporting actors).

There is a sense of spititual and emotional impoverishment in each of the stories which is reflected in the oppressing city environment. None of the stories ends happily but the reader is well prepared for this from the tone of the narrative.

These books are less ambitious than those of Dickens or Trollope but achieve their goal of etching clear, sympathetic portraits of the type of person usually ignored in the arts. Although not memorable in a historical sense, Bob, Jenny and Ella live with the reader long after he closes the book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Dreams were his life, were becoming more and more his life, and he worshiped at the shrine of dreams." Dec 11 2009
By Mary Whipple - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you have never heard of Patrick Hamilton, you are not alone. Described by the [London] Daily Telegraph as "a criminally neglected British author," Hamilton wrote nine novels from the 1920s through the early 1950s , along with the famous dramas of Rope and Gaslight. Almost Dickensian in his sympathetic attention to London's poor and struggling classes, Hamilton may finally be gaining the widespread public recognition he so richly deserves. A writer of enormous gifts, Hamilton's sense of time, place, and voice bring backstreet London in the 1930s alive with sense impressions. At the same time, he creates characters the reader instinctively cares about, even when they are being foolish. Three overlapping novellas filled with dark humor focus on three different characters associated with a pub called "The Midnight Bell," providing a close look at ordinary people living at the margins of society and doing the best they can in often fraught circumstances.

Bob, the bartender, is a young man for whom "Dreams were his life." Naively, he hopes to become a great writer, though he has not produced any work. Having inherited forty-seven pounds upon the death of his mother, he has scrimped from his small salary and tips so that he now has eighty pounds, a sum which symbolizes security for him. The arrival of Jenny Maples, a gorgeous, young prostitute whose pathetic story of needing money inspires his sense of protectiveness provides the turning point of this story. As she plays on his weaknesses, including his penchant for drink, he falls in love with her.

"The Siege of Pleasure" is Jenny's story, detailing her descent into prostitution. Though she has come to London to work--and finds a job as maid to a pair of hilarious old women and their deaf brother, which gives some much-needed comic relief--she soon becomes interested in being a "mannequin." The "victim" of a "glass of port" while out with friends, Jenny wakes up the next morning in a strange bed--her very gradual intoxication and equally gradual loss of control depicted with agonizing slowness.

"Plains of Cement" concentrates on the homely but loving Ella, the barmaid at The Midnight Bell, a woman in her late twenties who is a "little mother" to the late-at-night patrons. Hopelessly in love with Bob, who is not attracted to her, Ella soon finds herself being courted by Mr. Eccles, a much older man with a healthy bank account. Mr. Eccles, both peevish and demanding, soon attempts to take over her life, "superadding Religion to all the other mental thumbscrews and tortures," he has applied. As Ella tries find an escape, her plight elicits the greatest of empathy from the reader.

With its ironic title, suggesting that the lives of the denizens of The Midnight Bell are as far "under water" as Captain Nemo was in the Nautilus, this novel explores three desperate characters with sensitivity, care, and genuine emotion. The overarching problems of alcohol in two of the sections parallel the alcoholism of the author, and the development of the characters and the author's ability to involve the reader are enough to overcome the superficially trite plot lines. A rediscovered classic of the 1930s. Mary Whipple

Hangover Square
The Slaves of Solitude (New York Review Books Classics)
Craven House. Patrick Hamilton
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and sad trilogy Feb. 22 2009
By Michael Greenebaum - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Patrick Hamilton wrote brilliantly through the pathos of his own life. The title implies that Hamilton considered his characters to inhabit a subterranean world; class is a silent character here, although it bursts into the open in the third novel in the relationship between Ella and Mr Eccles. Reviewers have compared Hamilton to Dickens and Trollope, and his vivid depiction of London and its characters will certainly resonate with those who love the city. However, I think his true literary kinsman is Balzac; his ability to get inside his characters, see through their eyes, feel their emotions and speak through their mouths is superior to his English predecessors. There is irony aplenty here, but it is not authorial irony, at least not often. But there are amazing supporting comic characters, richly and precisely drawn.

It is true, as another reviewer wrote, that the trilogy does not end happily, but perhaps it is truer to say that though the novel ends, the lives of the main characters go on, and it is a tribute to Hamilton that I badly needed a fourth novel to accomplish a happier ending. But that novel could not have been written by Patrick Hamilton.
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