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"The Siege of Pleasure" by Patrick Hamilton

The Siege Of Pleasure - Patrick Hamilton

The Siege of Pleasure (1932) is the second book of the Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy - the other two are the first one, The Midnight Bell (1929), and the final part, The Plains of Cement (1934).

In The Midnight Bell (1929), Patrick Hamilton’s protagonist Bob, the waiter at a Euston pub called The Midnight Bell, has saved £80 (worth several thousands of pounds in today's money) in the bank through prudence and maximising his tips. Following a chance encounter with Jenny, a prostitute, and with whom he becomes obsessed, and believing he can change her, he becomes ever more reckless and desperate until he has spent all his savings on her. So, at the start ofThe Siege of Pleasure, we already know how Jenny's tale ends up. The Siege of Pleasure is essentially a prequel to The Midnight Bell and the story describes her drift into prostitution. 

In common with Bob, Jenny is the architect of her own downfall. Patrick Hamilton again allows his characters moments of reflection and self-insight during which there are ample opportunities to escape their downward trajectory. It's a clever technique that had me hoping first Bob, and then Jenny, might escape. Like The Midnight BellThe Siege of Pleasure is superb at bringing the era to life via numerous little details. In this novel, Patrick Hamilton wonderfully describes the household where Jenny gets a job as a live in maid and housekeeper. The two older sisters, Bella and Marion, who employ her, are fabulous creations. 

One of the novel's longest scenes takes place over a night out in a pub in Hammersmith. Needless to say, Patrick Hamilton nails both the pub's atmosphere, and the way the evening evolves as two women and two men, first meet and get to know each other as inebriation takes hold and inhibitions melt away. Jenny's descent in drunkenness is one of the best descriptions of getting drunk I have ever read. 

Patrick Hamilton also works in an incident of drunk driving - this following his own horrific accident at the hands of a drunk driver. In 1932, whilst walking with his sister and wife in London, Patrick Hamilton was struck by a drunk driver and dragged through the street. His injuries were devastating. After a three-month hospital stay, multiple surgeries (the accident ripped off his nose and left one arm mangled), and a period of convalescence, Hamilton suffered physical and emotional scars that would continue with him for the rest of his life. Some claim this contributed to his alcoholism. It certainly badly affected his self-esteem and he became very self conscious about the visible scars and loss of mobility. (His second play, To The Public Danger, commissioned by the BBC as part of a road safety campaign, was also an account of the carnage caused by drink driving).

So, this is yet another stunning book by Patrick Hamilton, that works as a stand alone novel (or perhaps novella given it's only about 120 pages long), and also one that enriches the Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky trilogy. I look forward to the final instalment.