The latest book group choice of the Slaves of Golconda is The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton. I haven’t read anything by this author before but after reading this book I’ll most definitely be checking other of his books. Now about the book:
The story takes place in England in 1943. Many Londoners have been forced out of their city such, as is the case for Miss Roach. At 39 the former schoolmistress is now living at the Rosamund Tea Rooms in Thames Lockdon. Here away from the bombs and planes overhead the quiet, unassuming Miss Roach hopes to live in relative peace but the tea rooms provide their own bit of hell and drama.
Miss Roach’s greatest nemesis at the tea rooms is Mr. Thwaites, a man who loves to question her and basically bully her into discussions. Her job, her acquaintances, no subject is off limits to the judgments of Mr. Thwaites and unfortunately there isn’t much Miss Roach can do as life as the tea rooms is very organized and everyone follows the rules. Here is just how the tea rooms seem to Miss Roach:
“This system of separate tables, well meant as it may have been, added yet another hellish touch to the hellish melancholy prevailing. For, in the small space of the room, a word could not be uttered, a little cough could not be made, a hairpin could not be dropped at one table without being heard at all the others; and the general self-consciousness which this caused smote the room with a silence, a conversational torpor, and finally a complete apathy from which it could not stir itself.”
To get away from the oppressive feeling at the tea rooms, Miss Roach would go for walks in the dark or often times spend some time at the local pub. Finally when she meets the American Lieutenant Pike she thinks her life is about to have some excitement and there is the possibility of a future to look forward to. She allows herself to dream even if the Lieutenant doesn’t seem very sincere.
While that relationship is unfolding there’s another character who’ll play a major role in Miss Roach’s life as well as those who live at the Tea Rooms. Miss Roach has befriended Vicki Kugelmann, a German woman who we’ll see is anything but a friend. Tempers and differences will come to light once Vicki is also living at the Tea Rooms.
One of my favorite parts of the story was when Miss Roach would plan out in her mind the discussions she should have had or would have with Mr. Thwaites, Vicki and others. I felt for her because I could see her struggle to stand up for herself.
Another aspect that really stood out for me is that even though the story takes place during WWII and obviously everyone in the story is marked by the war, everyone is also living. There are still power struggles, petty jealousies, and a myriad of personal dramas. Life goes on.
This isn’t a big book, the story isn’t fast-paced but I found it fascinating to read about just regular people in extraordinary times. Feel free to drop by the discussion and make sure to add this book to your wish list.