I finished Craven House this weekend. What Mr Hamilton says makes me laugh; what goes unsaid makes me cry.
Whereas the first signs of a failing brain in the average human are believed to manifest themselves in the form of odd straws, or irrelevant flowers sticking out from their persons; and whereas this in in actual fact a mainly false belief, there is no doubt whatever that, when suspicions of this sort come to centre round an old lady, the trouble first sets in around the Hat. A cherry too much, a rose too dangling, an apple too great, a bunch of grapes to the bad, and before you know where you are, you have a thick-veiled, white-booted, painted, muttering nodder, charging along the streets, mixing with the crowd, and waiting with eternal nods at street corners, to the bewildered horror of the public at large.
The concern of Craven House, then, can well be apppreciated, when Mrs. Hoare came down to lunch one Saturday afternoon, in a picture hat belonging to an unknown era, and adorned with a bright blending of large water grapes and pink ribbons, guaranteed to cause the Not All There school of nephews and nieces to toss their caps into the the air at the final and crushing defeat of their opponents.
Immediately she had taken her place, which she did with a mixture of slight coyness and a slight consciousness of being brazen, Bertha began to wheeze. This she continued to do before receiving a sharp glance from Miss Hatt, when she shook unsteadily, and remembered herself.
"Oh, Mrs. Hoare?" said Miss Hatt, agreeably, and in general.
"I sometimes wear it, you know," said Mrs. Hoare, and the company turned very pale. . . .
"Oh, yes," said Master Wildman.
"Yes. My Solicitor, you know," said Mrs. Hoare, with a winning smile.
"Oh, yes," said Master Wildman. "I see."
There was little else about the hat. In fact, most of the book is made up of such little windows on the inhabitants of Craven House.
Craven House was Patrick Hamilton's first novel, and it shows. It takes a while for the language and the characters to settle into each other. The early chapters are overwritten. It lacks polish and the precision that I felt sculpted The Slaves of Solitude, but brims with real and pathetic people and is no less devastating.
Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky arrived on my doorstep last week, but I'm going to take a little break from Mr Hamilton before I start in again. It's just too emotionally bleak to read so much of him all at once.