Hangover Square

Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square
(London: Penguin, 2001)
First published: 1941

He went to the line of telephone booths in the station and boxed himself in. He felt a little nervous. By her cruel and arbitrary behaviour she had made this instrument, the telephone, so terrifying and odious that he could no longer use it for any purpose without a feeling of trepidation, without a feeling that the person at the other end of the line was going to hurt him.

Set in the pubs, stations, and lodgings of London’s Earl’s Court in 1939, Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square is a novel filled to the brim with wires, lines, and sound technologies. From sound film to radio and telephones, the text explores the mind of a schizophrenic murderer who can only conceive of his life as being experienced either with or without sound. Hopelessly infatuated with the cold and heartless Netta, George Harvey Bone perpetually struggles to have meaningful conversations, to relate to others around him, and to break out of the menacing experience of loneliness. The telephone becomes an instrument of torture in the text, a technological expression of George’s feelings of isolation and dissociation. While he hopes to connect with others, Netta and her circle of fascist friends use telephone conversations to emotionally abuse, bully, and exclude him from their group. Although published in 1941, the novel is as timely as ever, serving as a reminder of the ways in which communication technologies do not always help us connect with others. Indeed, telephones in Hangover Square have the adverse effect: they invoke and deepen feelings of isolation, exclusion, and dissociation.

by Lara Ehrenfried