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James Hanley: No Directions

Somewhat of a departure for Hanley, this novel uses a house as a symbol for an entire society (see, for example, Tarjei VesaasHuset i mørkret (The House in the Dark) or Perec‘s La Vie mode d’emploi (Life: A User’s Manual)). The house in Hanley’s novel is a rooming house in London during an air-raid in World War II and can best be described as a madhouse to represent, of course, the insanity outside. It is never entirely clear what is going on, as Hanley throws a series of impressions and conversations at us. It starts with the arrival of the outsider, Mr. Johns, the drunken sailor, who has been brought home by another resident, fearful of leaving this man to his own devices and ends with Mr. Johns concussed during the air-raid and found unconscious on the floor. In between, Hanley gives us a mass of impressions, from Lena with her cancer of the heart to her husband, Clem, who tries in vain to get Bolivia – the only reachable station – on his Philco radio to Richard, who tries to keep some semblance of order in the chaos, but fails miserably, particularly when the bomb hits. Doesn’t quite work for me but it’s a fascinating attempt at portraying the chaos and insanity of a world at war.

Publishing history

First published 1943 by Faber