Patrick Hamilton

Literary fashion is a wild & mental beast, and I understand if you’re a little intimidated by it. Allow me to clear things up:

Hot: John King, Portugal, David Peace, William Gaddis, unrhymed iambic pentameter, Haruki Murakami, Jonathan Letham, Hungary, Daisy Goodwin’s rotting corpse, W.G. Sebald.

Not: Irvine Welsh, Latin America, Louis De Bernieres, Don DeLillo, rhymed iambic pentameter, Salman Rushdie, McSweeney’s, the Czech Republic, Daisy Goodwin, W.G. Sebald.

I hope that helped.

Literary Fashion, while inflicting some horrors upon the world – a widespread belief in the literacy of Alain de Botton, for instance – sporadically does something spectacular and good. So it is now: Patrick Hamilton is back. BBC4 screened an adaptation of his Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky trilogy last month, and the NFT recently ran a season of films based on his work.

A capsule biography of Hamilton runs as follows: born (1904) to psychotic-narcissist father and weak-willed mother, goes through over-discplined childhood, falls in love with a prostitute, writes some great novels, has horrific accident, writes a couple more great novels, drinks a lot, ceases to write great novels, dies (1962).

He deserves love for many reasons. First of all, he’s the genius of bad infatuations. If you’ve ever sent yourself mental wanting to get someone naked who has no interest in seeing you naked, Hamilton’s your man.

He’s among the greatest of London writers, too: his period of post-miserable-childhood dissolution was spent in shabby pubs, and he watched the way of hopeless London carefully. He’s not Soho or Fitzrovia cool: these are the loser establishments on the Euston Road or in Earl’s Court, all bad jokes and scrounged pints. He watched and listened carefully: his murky London endures, and you can find his bores right by your ear in any local.

Most of all though, he’s the best writer about being drunk in history. Truly the best: he gets what it’s actually like, the way a night slips into bits and pieces, and there’s hysterical conversation that make no sense, and you’re not sure how you got where you are, but it’s all terrific, until – well, Hangover Square. That’s the title of his best novel. Go find it.

It’s great his books are back on shelves. Let us celebrate those who love and understand London and alcohol and passion. Buy his ghost a drink, get confused, and fall in love with someone heartless who has sex for money. It’s what he would have wanted.