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James Hanley: Another World

Hanley’s speciality is the examination of a small group in a circumscribed environment – a ship, a small business, a house. We have seen it in most of his books and this one is no exception. In this case the environment is a small hotel/boarding house in Wales, which, frankly, is not very successful. It is run by a Yorkshire woman, Mrs. Gandell, aided by her factotum, Jones. Their relationship is very reminiscent of the relationship between Mrs. Ragner and her servant, Daniel Corkran, in The Secret Journey, the second in the Furys sequence. Jones is Mrs. Gandell’s servant and is treated as such. His only rebellion is occasional drunkenness. However, there is a symbiotic relationship between them. Mrs. Gandell is close to sacking him at one time but cannot.

There are effectively only two tenants. The first is the cantankerous Mr. Protheroe, who leaves the first day. The second is the very withdrawn Miss Vaughan. Miss Vaughan has come to the town to work (at low wages) for Mr. Blair, a solicitor. Why she has come is not entirely clear, though it seems her parents are dead and that she had (and still thinks she has) a relationship with a now deceased colonel. She keeps herself to herself, spending most of her time when not in Mr. Blair’s office in her room, reading. Mrs. Gandell and Jones are mystified at and critical of her behaviour. However, there is one other key character, Mervyn Thomas, the local vicar. Thomas is fifty years old, single and lives with his sister, who is also single. He is obsessed with Miss Vaughan. He follows her around, even coming into the house uninvited, writes to her (she throws the letters away unopened) and tries every means to get her interested in him. She is not. Of course, in a small Welsh town, this behaviour is noted and condemned and attendance at his chapel starts to drop. His sister continually berates him and eventually moves out. The inevitable result is tragedy.

Hanley’s novels cannot be said to be fun. Indeed, they are quite harrowing. Most of the characters end up worse off than at the start of the novel. Hanley does not spare us. There is no redeeming character, no-one we can identify with. Indeed, the only smile on Hanley’s face is for Miss Vaughan at the end.

Publishing history

First published 1972 by André Deutsch