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James Hanley: A Dream Journey
Hanley’s favourite settings appear again – a rooming house during the War. Indeed, we seem to have the same characters and situation as in No Directions. The main characters are Clement Stevens, a fifty-five year old reclusive painter and his forty-year old wife, Lena. We soon find out that they are not married. While that is not an issue for them, it causes some awkward moments for them. The couple live in a flat in a house where they have clearly recently moved away from Euston and are clearly struggling financially. Clem almost never leaves the house. Indeed, the two occasions when he does leave it during the book are very traumatic. The first time he leaves, he is completely at a loss about what to do. He does manage to go to a pub and have drink but it is clearly a major adventure. The second time, he leaves during the middle of a major air-raid. His body is found by a passer-by under some rubble.
The first part of the book more or less establishes their life together in the flat. It is Lena that goes out, does the shopping, tries to sell his paintings (she makes a deal with the butcher, in exchange for some meat), deals with the rent and so on. The second part of the book brings the rest of the building into focus, as well as a few outsiders, including the usual drunken sailor, a favourite character of Hanley’s. They all get to together in the cellar because of frequent air-raids. For Clem and Lena the main concern of the air-raids is to struggle with Clem’s huge painting down the stairs and to the cellar. Lena is soon unable to help for, as in No Directions, she has cancer of the heart which, in reality, seems to be breast cancer. It all ends badly, with Clem’s death (but not before he has destroyed the painting), leaving Lena on her own. This is certainly one of Hanley’s most interesting novels, with not just the group-in-an-enclosed-environment story but also the struggle of the artist, the dependence of Lena and Clem and war and its attendant horrors.
First published 1976 by André Deutsch