Hangover Square is set in 1938 London’s Earl’s Court and the main characters are a group of functioning alcoholics with nothing better to do than get drunk. The main character is George Bone who has very little confidence in his abilities or intelligence. He is large and lumbering and in some ways comes across as a slightly brighter version of the Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men.
He was thirty-four, and had a tall, strong, beefy, ungainly figure. He had a fresh, red complexion and a small moustache. His eyes were big and blue and sad and slightly bloodshot with beer and smoke. He looked as though he had been to an inferior public school and would be pleased to sell you a second-hand car.
Unfortunately for George, he has access to money which he uses to fund his fondness for drink. The group he runs around with are Netta, a failed actress who is beautiful on the outside but completely lacking in any sort of compassion or gratitude towards George who settles her bills and Peter who is a former convict. Alcohol is at the route of their friendship but there is real malice in Netta and Peter as they use and abuse George in increasingly vile ways. What they really want is his money, but not his company. Netta has sex with men but not with George. He sees himself as her champion and even wants to marry her at the start of the novel. Eventually he wants to just have sex with her like all the other men but she deliberately lies to him and keeps him at arm’s length to keep him on a short leash.
Unfortunately for Netta, George has “episodes” where he snaps into a different persona. This darker version sees Netta for what she is and plots her murder.
A silent film without music – he could have found no better way of describing the weird world in which he now moved. He looked at passing objects and people, but they had no colour, vivacity, meaning – he was mentally deaf to them. They moved like automatons, without motive, without volition of their own. He could hear what they said, he could understand their words, he could answer them, even; but he did this automatically, without having to think of what they had said or what he was saying in return.
The two sides of George snap in and out of the narrative and one murder attempt is foiled when George snaps back into his more affable self.
George is a reader and when he is sober is also a pretty good golfer. A sober George also doesn’t have the dark episodes and although Netta and her cronies are encouraging his drunkenness they don’t like either good guy/bad guy George, they only want his money for more drink. No-one works which means there is a dissolute lifestyle all afternoon and evening and hangovers every morning – hence the play on Hanover Square becoming Hangover Square.
There is an irony that Netta who is without money and does nothing all day still employs a char and expects George to pay her rent, char bills and drinking tab. Moreover she wants him to treat her and her hangover hangers-on to holidays in Brighton.
Her thoughts, however, resembled those of a fish – something seen floating in a tank, brooding, self-absorbed, frigid, moving solemnly forward to its object or veering slowly sideways without fully conscious motivation.
She has only one desire and that is to use her looks to try and get more parts in films and on the stage. Her acting ability is slight and although she pursues Eddie Carstairs to help her out with her career, ironically it is George that Eddie sees the good in.
There is one section – around page 250 – where good things happen to George but generally there is no-one likable in the novel. We can feel sorry for George but his unwillingness to move on and stay sober makes it difficult to like him and feel sorry about the inevitable conclusion.
I found it to be unremitting awfulness apart from the one redeeming section. If it hadn’t been for the Book Club I wouldn’t have finished it. Reading about mental illness and alcoholism is just not for me.