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Issue 60 - The perils of drink

Whisky Magazine Issue 60
November 2006


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The perils of drink

Jefferson Chase unearths a forgotten gem

Normally when something goes click in your head, it's good. But not if you're George Harvey Bone, the protagonist of Patrick Hamilton's 1941 novel Hangover Square, a persuasive examination of drinking and schizophrenia in pre-World War II London.

Hamilton, who wrote the plays upon which the movies Gaslight and Rope were based, had a thing for homicidal, mentally unbalanced characters, and he wastes no time laying out what his novel is about. He does it in a bit of interior monologue: Why must he kill Netta? Because things had been going on too long, and he must get to Maidenhead and be peaceful and contented again. And why Maidenhead? Because he had been happy there with his sister, Ellen.

They had had a splendid fortnight, and she had died a year or so later.

He would go on the river again, and be at peace. He liked the High Street, too. He would not drink any more – or only an occasional beer.

But first of all he had to kill Netta.

Insanity has its own logic – that's the difficult thing about depicting characters who are off their rocker. As this passage shows, Hamilton got the mix spot on.

The Netta in question is a would-be actress turned hustling floozy with whom Bone – a failure at pretty much everything except excessive drinking and golf – is hopelessly and disastrously in love. Netta leads him on in pursuit of money and free drinks, only to repeatedly abuse and humiliate him throughout the novel.

If that sounds dark, it is. Nonetheless, with a wry sense...

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