I've had The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton, sitting on my to-read pile for a long time. A year or so; I got it with The Dud Avocado, which I wrote about here. Both books were published by NYRB Classics, which makes me wonder if they can illustrate the tone of books published by NYRB in general. These two didn't have anything in common story-wise, but they do share a certain something. Neither book ended predictably; they didn't conform to storytelling formulas, almost to a point where it's not storytelling, just taking pictures. Though of course both books do have stories.
The Slaves of Solitude takes place in 1943, primarily in a small town outside London called Thames Lockdon, and a boarding house there called the Rosamund Tea Rooms. It's heroine is Miss Roach, cursed all around with unfortunate names, and an unlikely focus for a novel. She's 39, formerly a schoolmistress, afraid to live in London because of the blitz though she no longer likes Thames Lockdon, or the people she lives with. Though this didn't occur to me until the end of the book, Miss Roach is a lot like Miss Pettigrew--but their stories are nothing alike. Miss Roach visits pubs with an American lieutenant, an "inconsequent" man, and they kiss on park benches in the dark. In a way no one in the book has much consequence, yet they add up to change Miss Roach's life--yet even these changes don't seem likely to last.
The war is spoken of as its own being; it makes changes, it takes things away and it creates things, and it seems to do this consciously, like an animal sneaking into houses and stealing shiny objects. "The war seemed to have conjured into being, from nowhere, magically, a huge population of its own--one which flowed into and filled every channel and crevice of the country--the towns, the villages, the streets, the trains, the buses, the shops, the hotels, the inns, the restaurants, the movies." (pg 26) Everything has intention, yet the effects of this are all subtle and insinuating. "She had often wondered what exact motive Mr. Prest had in being alive..." (pg 184). That there would be a motive for existence is a given, but it doesn't seem to be necessary that this makes much difference. This contributes to giving much of the book a rather sinister feeling.
This is a very well written, somewhat subtly clever book, which is satisfying in this way if not in story. Things change, but aren't entirely resolved, which is what makes the story unsatisfying. Not that it's a bad story, but that it doesn't play into anyone's hopes or desires, doesn't satisfy a simple need for romance or a happy ending. Though it was an odd book, I liked it.