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Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky: A London Trilogy (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – February 19, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"The rediscovery of English writer Hamilton (Hangover Square, The Slaves of Solitude) continues with this tale of obsessive love in the low-rent pubs of 1930s London - so evocatively rendered you almost smell the smoke and spilt ale." --Newsday

“No other English writer has written so acutely about sexual infatuation, embarrassment and self-delusion.” –Time Out

“Unsurpassed as a recorder of lonely urban existence in the mid-20th century.” –Lynne Truss, The Times [UK]

“Hamilton is a master at reproducing the inflated talk of betrayed lives.” –The Independent [UK]

“The wonderful 1935 trilogy, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, is set in a pub off the Euston Road. Every detail is spot on; Hamilton’s remorseless eye weaves an atmosphere as thick as bar smoke.” –The Independent [UK]

“Bleak and brilliant…an authentic lost classic.” –The Guardian

“A little-known classic of English literature.” –Seattle Times

“When I came upon Hamilton's name in this book, I got out Hangover Square and found, just as my Penguin edition blurbed, "one of the great novels of the 20th century." (Suffice it to say that Hamilton writes about street life with an honesty and lyricism, an absence of sentimentality or fetish for squalor, that should make nearly every hard-boiled writer hang his or her head in shame.)” –Charles Taylor, Salon.com

“Patrick Hamilton is being revived again. And it looks serious this time… JB Priestley was an early supporter. Hamilton's book The West Pier was generously described by Graham Greene as "the best novel ever written about Brighton". He was John Betjeman's favourite contemporary novelist. Writers from Julie Burchill to Doris Lessing are warm admirers. Biographer Michael Holroyd has written numerous essays and introductions. Nick Hornby recently described him as 'my new best friend'.” —The Independent [UK]

“Until recently, my bedside table has been tilting under the weight of various Victorian novels; now I'm planning a book with a post-war setting and have put myself on a diet of slimmer, mid-20th-century works…Most exciting, however, has been Patrick Hamilton's fiction: I am halfway through The Slaves of Solitude, his nervy, hilarious study of the claustrophobic awfulness of British boarding-house life; now I have his trilogy, Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, to look forward to.” –Sunday Times [UK]

“[Hamilton’s] scenes of pub life (and much of the action of the trilogy takes place off those 20,000 streets in an array of licensed premises) are perfectly realized. They enable him to bring a near-Dickensian sense of the comic to a gallery of the most appalling pub bores. It is certainly worth the attention of a new generation of readers.” –The Birmingham Post [UK]

“This reprinted classic well deserves its shelf space with new novels…The magic lies in Hamilton's ability to get inside the head of his rather tragic and innocent characters, and in his power of description, especially of pubs. The atmosphere of 1920s-30s London hostelries and the joys of having a drink in them makes you long to be there, watching one of the scenes he so vividly describes unfold in the corner.” –Coventry Evening Telegraph

Hamilton captures the "authentic atmosphere of what it was like to live in England between the two world wars". –Michael Holroyd

"He is a master." –J. B. Priestley

“Patrick Hamilton was a marvelous novelist who’s grossly neglected...I’m continually amazed that there’s a kind of roll call of OK names from the 1930s, sort of Auden, Isherwood, etc. But Hamilton is never on them and he’s a much better writer than any of them…He wrote more sense about England and what was going on in England in the 1930s than anybody else I can think of, and his novels are true now. You can go into any pub and see it going on.” –Doris Lessing, The Times [UK]

“A magnificent portrait of the renting twilight class of 1930s London. Too bleak for its own times, its nihilism suited us just fine.” –Daily Telegraph

“A criminally neglected British author.” –Daily Telegraph

“My big discovery of the year has been Patrick Hamilton. His trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky, written in the 1920s, is a beauty - one of the finest books I've ever read.” –Dan Rhodes, Sunday Glasgow Herald

“I've gone Patrick Hamilton crazy. I was blown away by the superbly excruciating Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky , and I'm going to track down some of his out-of-print novels. He writes brilliantly about infatuation and drunkenness - two subjects close to my heart.” –Dan Rhodes, The Observer [UK]

"It's rainswept and melancholy–just my kind of stuff.” –Phil Davis, The Times [UK]

“Hamilton wrote a world into being that still exists: a London world of smoky pubs and bedsits, homeless individuals and forlorn lovers, people at the pictures, people in Soho, English men and women living in and around the centre of the city's capital in the first decades of the last century, people full of yearning and loneliness. He was a poet of the foggy lamplight and the nicotine-stained ceiling, and we mustn't forget him. We daren't. We are still in need of his intelligence and his moral insight.” –Daily Telegraph

“A writer I love is Patrick Hamilton…I am reading his trilogy, which is called Twenty-Thousand Streets Under the Sky. His world is a world of thwarted dreams in the 1920s and '30s. His writing is phenomenally good.” –Wesley Stace, The Newark Star-Ledger

“Hamilton was an expert at describing the simple sadnesses of unfulfilled lives” –The Observer

“Hamilton was the son of a tyrannical, drunken barrister and a failed actress. He published his first novel at 19, establishing himself as one of the bright young novelists of the 1920s and 1930s, only to be knocked over by a car at the height of his career and badly disfigured. Despite professional success, his work reflected his life -rootless and depressed, buffeted by failed relationships and awash with alcohol -and he died in 1962 of cirrhosis of the liver.” –The Times [UK]

“Funny and moving trilogy of low-life love affairs in 30s SoHo” –The Times (UK)
June 27, 1987

“Writers such as Lynne Truss and Nick Hornby are proclaiming his genius. Hamilton is about to be ‘rediscovered.’” –The Daily Telegraph

From the Inside Flap

A timeless classic of sleazy London life in the 1930s, a world of streets, full of cruelty and kindness, comedy and pathos, where people emerge from cheap lodgings in Pimlico to pour out their passions, hopes and despair in pubs and bars.

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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; First Thus edition (February 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590172566
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590172568
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #228,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It would be wonderful to walk into a pub, or bar inhabited by characters like the ones in these stories, and one can by reading the book. The characters are so well developed, their thoughts, language and conversations so exact that one finds it easy to relate to them and their circumstances. These characters are alive to the reader and these characters know themselves, and still, because of time (1929) and station (working class), cannot do much to improve their plight. Most men have been in a situation similar to Bob with Jenny, and if not, then they have missed both the highs and the anguish of unrequited love, but perhaps are better off in other ways. As I read about Bob, I thought this book should be required reading for young men just starting with romance. The three stories in this book are so real that the reader wants so badly to warn, and to help; if you open this book you will become involved in a new place at a different time with real people -- it won't be casual; it will be real: five stars are too few.
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Format: Paperback
In reality, this volume is a collection of three separate but related Hamilton novels from the late twenties-early thirties: The Midnight Bell, The Siege of Pleasure, and The Plains of Cement.
The first relates the story of a barman's obsession with a scheming prostitute, the second is a tale of a "nice girl"'s downfall through drink, and the final novel tells of a plain-looking barmaid's emotional turmoil when pursued by a much older man.
These themes, and the dialogue used by the characters, are inevitably dated. However, Hamilton's wonderfully compassionate writing make simple themes appear to be universal and timeless.
Indeed, loneliness, unrequited love, fear of rejection, unfulfilled dreams etc are components of the universal human experience. However, in Hamilton's hands, these components never result in full-blown despair. The characters are so resilient that there is always, even after the most appalling experience, a note of optimism.
Few British writers have written so eloquently about the simple dreams, modest personal ambitions and cultural limitations of ordinary people in what was then a rigid class society.
In particular, his insight into working class "pub culture" (in these novels and later works such as "Hangover Square" and "Slaves of Solitude") is extraordinary. Its a pity his "research" led to such heavy alcohol dependence, with its resultant impact upon his literary achievement!.
The three novels in "20,000 streets" are a great introduction to Hamilton, and along with his later more sophisticated work, make a case for a much belated re-appraisal of his place in 20th century British literature.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had not come across these books or this author until I saw it on an Amazon recommendation but both are certainly worth knowing about. The 3 interrelated short novels include strong character studies and an atmospheric feeling for London between the wars. The main characters are 2 workers in a London pub and a prostitute; with a story fashioned around each.

The first concerns the strange and doomed attraction of a waiter for Jenny Maples, a London prostitute. Bob's backwards and forwards approach to her resembles that of Julian Sorrel in The Red and the Black while his inability to disengage from her after numerous attempts reminds the reader of the protagonist from Of Human Bondage. The second story explains how Jenny became a woman of the street. The final novel completes the triangle in telling the story of the waitress who secretly loves Bob. Spurned by his indifference, she puts up with the measured attentions of Mr. Eccles until she decides that she prefers loneliness to irritation. (Actually, Eccles is a minor character that is masterfully portrayed and another in a long literary line of memorable, eccentric English supporting actors).

There is a sense of spititual and emotional impoverishment in each of the stories which is reflected in the oppressing city environment. None of the stories ends happily but the reader is well prepared for this from the tone of the narrative.

These books are less ambitious than those of Dickens or Trollope but achieve their goal of etching clear, sympathetic portraits of the type of person usually ignored in the arts. Although not memorable in a historical sense, Bob, Jenny and Ella live with the reader long after he closes the book.
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If you have never heard of Patrick Hamilton, you are not alone. Described by the [London] Daily Telegraph as "a criminally neglected British author," Hamilton wrote nine novels from the 1920s through the early 1950s , along with the famous dramas of Rope and Gaslight. Almost Dickensian in his sympathetic attention to London's poor and struggling classes, Hamilton may finally be gaining the widespread public recognition he so richly deserves. A writer of enormous gifts, Hamilton's sense of time, place, and voice bring backstreet London in the 1930s alive with sense impressions. At the same time, he creates characters the reader instinctively cares about, even when they are being foolish. Three overlapping novellas filled with dark humor focus on three different characters associated with a pub called "The Midnight Bell," providing a close look at ordinary people living at the margins of society and doing the best they can in often fraught circumstances.

Bob, the bartender, is a young man for whom "Dreams were his life." Naively, he hopes to become a great writer, though he has not produced any work. Having inherited forty-seven pounds upon the death of his mother, he has scrimped from his small salary and tips so that he now has eighty pounds, a sum which symbolizes security for him. The arrival of Jenny Maples, a gorgeous, young prostitute whose pathetic story of needing money inspires his sense of protectiveness provides the turning point of this story. As she plays on his weaknesses, including his penchant for drink, he falls in love with her.

"The Siege of Pleasure" is Jenny's story, detailing her descent into prostitution.
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