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Posts Tagged ‘mental illness’

HANGOVER SQUARE by Patrick Hamilton: Golden Oldies

What a sad, sad story about dysfunctional lives in pre-World War II London.  What a terrific read.

Hangover Square takes place in a seedy area in the down-at-the-heels Earl Court district of the city.  George Harvey Bone is a twenty-something man with mental illness, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say mental illnesses.  He suffers from schizophrenia, alcoholism, and an obsession which manifests itself only when he is in his schizophrenic state.  During his non-schizophrenic time, George is both fascinated and repelled by Netta Longdon.  During his schizophrenic episodes, his all-consuming desire is to kill her.

In his normal state, George is utterly besotted by Netta.  When he sees her the day after Christmas, he is struck again by her looks.  “Although she was not made up, untidy and not trying,” she bewitches him “with…unholy beauty….”  In his functional state, his wish is to marry Netta and have children with her; in his schizophrenic state, he plots to kill her.  In each state, he has no memory of the other one.

Netta is the leader of a small group of extremely unpleasant people.  She is a wanna-be film actress but is unwilling to put any effort into learning her craft.  Actually, it’s not so much that she wants to act, she wants the money and glory that would come with being in that profession.  But, being too lazy to improve her skills, she hasn’t gotten any further than a couple of small movie roles.

In many ways, the relationship between George and Netta is similar to that between Phillip Carey and Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage In each novel there is a sad, lonely man who falls in love with a sadistic and uncaring woman.  Both Netta and Mildred use George and Phillip, respectively, only for monetary reasons.  They show no warmth, feeling, or compassion for these men, only scorn and distain for the way the men allowed themselves to be treated.

Hangover Square is a hard read.  One goes back and forth in George’s disturbed mind, and both of his states are hard to deal with.  When he appears normal, his obsession with Netta allows her to treat him dreadfully, and although he sometimes recognizes this, he is so enthralled by her he is unable to break the cord that binds them.   When he’s in his schizophrenic state and plotting murder, it’s equally hard to read.

Hangover Square is considered Patrick Hamilton’s finest novel.  He also was a poet and the author of two successful plays:  Rope, which was made into an Alfred Hitchcock film starring Jimmy Stewart, and Gaslight, later to become a movie starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman.

You can read more about Patrick Hamilton at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Reads blog at her web site.







TALKING TO THE DEAD by Harry Bingham: Book Review

Sometimes a book is so good that when you finish reading it you simply have to close your eyes and relish it for a moment. Talking to the Dead is one of those books.

This is the first mystery I’m blogging about that takes place in modern Wales; the only other Welsh book on my blog is One Corpse Too Many, one of the Brother Cadfael twelfth-century mysteries by the late Ellis Peters.

Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths is an honors graduate in philosophy from Cambridge University and a relatively new member of the Cardiff police force. She already has a bit of a reputation for unorthodox behavior–when a suspect made some inappropriate advances to her, she broke his kneecap and three of his fingers.

Two bodies are found in a shabby, seemingly abandoned house in the city.  They are identified as Janet Mancini, a part-time prostitute with a drug habit, and her six-year-old daughter April.  In the midst of the squalor the police come across a credit card belonging to Brendan Rattigan, a wealthy businessman who died in a plane crash several months before the book opens.  What could this card be doing in Janet Mancini’s possession?

The narrative is in the first person, in Fiona’s voice.  We know almost from the beginning there is something off, not quite right about her. She’s not able to show emotions, and only by viewing what those around her are showing is she able to approximate the appropriate ones–fear, happiness, surprise.  And, to the best of her memory, she has never in her life cried.  In fact, she doesn’t know what tears would feel like–would they be hot, would they hurt?  She simply doesn’t know.

Fiona is sent with another officer to interview Cardiff’s prostitutes, hoping for a clue into Janet’s murder.  The women are initially reluctant to speak, not having had good experiences with the police, but they open up to Fiona a bit more willingly after a second prostitute is murdered.  They have to decide which is more frightening–talking to the police and hoping for protection or waiting for the killer to strike again.

Fiona is also investigating the case of a former police detective who will soon be on trial for embezzlement.  She thinks there’s a connection between his case and the murders, but no one else seems to share her feelings.  So she’s working overtime to follow her instincts and trying to connect the cases.

Fiona Griffiths is a remarkable character.  She’s smart, intuitive, courageous.  She’s trying to understand who she is, both personally and professionally, but she is plagued by frequent night terrors that she can’t explain, even to herself.  There were two years in her mid-teens when she had a complete mental breakdown, and neither she nor the mental health professionals who tried to help were successful in figuring out the cause or causes.

Following Fiona as she tries to deal with the blank spots in her memory is an important part of the novel.  When the book ends and the explanation given, I promise that you will not be unmoved.

The other characters in Talking to the Dead are wonderful too.  Her superior officer, her colleague who might become something more, her loving parents are all beautifully and realistically drawn.  This is a mystery but also a story of a young woman trying hard to find her place in the world.  It’s a remarkable debut.

You can read more about Harry Bingham at his web site.