Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky is an entertaining, beautifully written trilogy of intertwined semi-autobiographical novellas which were published separately and centre on The Midnight Bell, a fictional London boozer near the junction of Euston and Tottenham Court Roads.
Though it had no wide reputation, all manner of people frequented ‘The Midnight Bell.’ This was in its nature, of course, since it is notorious that all manner of people frequent all manner of public-houses – which in this respect resemble railway stations and mad-houses.
The first novella, ‘The Midnight Bell’(1929), centres on Bob, a waiter and would-be writer, who becomes enchanted by a prostitute he serves in the bar – mirroring events in Hamilton’s own life. In the second, ‘The Siege of Pleasure’ (1932), the focus is on Jenny, the prostitute, and her fall from respectability. The final book of the trio ‘The Plains of Cement’ (1934),is about Bob’s colleague Ella, torn between the attentions of an older, wealthy man, and her unrequited love for Bob.
It is perhaps surprising that Hamilton isn’t better known or more widely read, he certainly deserves to be – his bringing to life of working class Londoners is superb with echoes of Dickens. The only negative for me is the lack of any real sense of place – the “Twenty Thousand Streets” are little more than street names, just a means of transporting the character from ‘The Midnight Bell’, to perhaps a cinema, a different pub or a Lyons Coffee House – they are rarely described, incidental to the plot.