sixty-eight, sixty-seven, sixty-six: twenty thousand streets under the sky

Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky by Patrick Hamilton
– a London trilogy

the Midnight Bell (1930)

“The kiss of a wicked woman – the kiss of Sin… The sweet, brief, virginal kiss of Sin! A miraculous and exhilarating contradiction! It remained on his mouth like a touch of violets. There had never been such a kiss in the history of the world.”

Bob is a waiter at the Midnight Bell, a small pub in London. One a very busy night he meets a prostitute, but she is the prettiest girl in London. She is in a poor state, owing a few shillings on her rent. Bob has never lent money to strangers before, but the pretty Jenny, although she protests, gets the money and promises to pay him back. Bob cannot stop thinking about Jenny and starts walking the streets of West End in hope to see her again. And then he does and fell in love. He spends an awful lot of money on Jenny who hardly ever shows up on time, if at all, and is always in a miserable state. Bob is proud of the 80 pounds he has in the bank, but the more he sees of Jenny, the more money gets withdrawn from his account. But he loves Jenny and she is going to pay him back.

“And how could he complain? Languishing husbands might love her to distraction; authors might give her books. She might go to Paris. But she was here now, forgiving him with little pressures – his ‘girl’. She had said she loved him”

the Siege of Pleasure (1932)

“‘All through a glass of port,’ Jenny, the girl of the streets, had said. She had said it in jest, but who shall decline to surmise that she had stumbled upon the literal truth? If Jenny had not taken that first glass she would not have taken the second, and if she had not taken the second she would not have taken the third, and if she had not taken the third she would not then and there have resolved to abandon herself to the pleasures and perils of drink. And if she had not done that, she would not have become involved in the events which lost her her job, and set her going down the paths of destruction.”

The second book in the trilogy is all about Jenny, Bob’s love interest, and that fatal night that made her late for her new job as a maid in service at the age of 18 and thus made her a girl of the streets.

the Plains of Cement (1934)

“‘Doesn’t the lake look lovely?’ said Mr. Eccles, for by now they had walked right round into view of the lake. ‘I shall never forget this lake’.
‘Won’t you?’
‘No. That was where we walked when we first Knew, said Mr. Eccles, giving her another nudge, while Ella concentrated on gropingly on a Letter. A postman alone could curb this prodigious man.”

Ella is the barmaid at the Midnight Bell and one day an older man, Mr. Eccles, asks her on a date to the theatre. A few weeks later they are engaged, but Ella is never sure of her feelings for this much older man with such a temper. And who she really loves is Bob, but he is unaware of her feelings.

Such a strange trilogy, not in chronological order at all and the second book doesn’t really correspond with the other two. I think that if the part about Jenny’s past had been left out, it would have been a much better book. But such lovely language and style of writing.

I agree with Doris Lessing; ‘Hamilton was a marvellous novelist who’s grossly neglected’. I’m definitely going to read more Patrick Hamilton, and I urge you to do the same.

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