Literary Beginnings – Monday Morning by Patrick Hamilton and Summer Crossing by Truman Capote

Something a little different from me today. It can be interesting to follow the development of a favourite writer to track how their work evolves over the years. In this post I’m looking at the debut novels of two masters of their craft, Patrick Hamilton and Truman Capote, delving into their literary beginnings to see how they started their careers.

Monday Morning by Patrick Hamilton (1925)

A fascinating insight into how Hamilton’s work was set to develop over the years, this debut novel offers early glimpses of many of the writer’s trademark tropes – more specifically, men who become infatuated with unsuitable women; forthright comic characters complete with various eccentricities; the challenges of writing, acting and other artistic pursuits; the seedy atmosphere of Earl’s Court with its smoky bars and pubs; the lure of prostitutes and heavy drinking: and of course, the loneliness of tawdry boarding-houses and hotels. It’s a lovable little novel – rather amusing and optimistic compared to Hamilton’s other work, but characteristically strong on dialogue too.

Central to the story is eighteen-year-old Anthony Forster, a romantic, idealistic young man embarking on the first phase of his adult life in London. (Everything up to this point has merely been a prologue to this ‘true’ beginning, a curtain raiser to the main event.) With his aspirations of becoming a successful writer and poet, Anthony is in danger of daydreaming his time away, forever resolving to make a proper start on *Life* next Monday Morning.

Anthony was quite sure, really, that he would be successful in obtaining a very good journalistic position. Also he had a certain fear in the obtaining of a good journalistic position. Wemyss had frightened him with stories of frantic interviewing, reporting, and putting papers to bed. There seemed in journalism a quite unfamous, distressfully energetic note of competition. Not that Anthony did not relish a bitter fight for fame. But he did not like this way of setting about it. A far nicer way of doing it would be to starve somewhere, in a garret, writing immortal things, and being free. Even been found dead one morning in the red, new sunlight. (pp.70-71)

Very little happens in the way of plot in this novel; instead, the story focuses on experiences as Anthony searches for a meaningful purpose in life. Naturally, there is love along the way, especially when our protagonist meets Diane, a rather shallow, impetuous young girl who happens to be staying at the same Kensington hotel (the Fauconberg). Amid the heady emotions of youth, Anthony’s mood fluctuates from rushes of wild passion to periods of abject disillusionment, particularly as Diane is so capricious in nature.

In time, Anthony gets a small part in a touring play via a fellow boarder at the Fauconberg, the forthright Mr Brayne. The production takes Anthony to a range of different locations including Sheffield, Manchester and Torquay, highlighting the isolated nature of a life lived in temporary accommodation complete with all its drab associations.

Anthony had lunch at his combined room. Steak piping hot, hot plate, greasy potatoes and cabbage. And after this he lay on his bed and slept. Not sleep exactly. A worried, giddy, dim consciousness of his own cold legs, the warm pillow, the milkman’s cart outside, an occasional little shriek from an opening gate, the rapping of quick heels on the pavement, coming from afar and fading abruptly around a corner… (p.158)

While the hopeful ending might feel a little sentimental for some Hamilton enthusiasts, I loved it for its warmth and idealism.

In summary, this is a charming novel for fans of this writer’s work. Probably not the best one to try if you’re a newbie – The Slaves of Solitude or Hangover Square would be my recommendations there.

Summer Crossing by Truman Capote (written in the 1940s, published posthumously in 2005)

This vivid, eloquent novel – Capote’s first – revolves around seventeen-year-old Grady, the beautiful, headstrong daughter of the privileged McNeil family. In many ways, it is a coming-of-age story as Grady’s sexuality is exposed in the blistering heat of a New York summer.

Her everyway hair was like a rusty chrysanthemum, petals of it loosely falling on her forehead, and her eyes, so startlingly set in her fine unpolished face, caught with wit and green aliveness all atmosphere. (p. 51)

When the McNeils set sail for France, Grady is left alone in her parents’ luxurious apartment for the season, determined to make the most of her new-found freedom. The tensions between Grady and her mother, Lucy, are apparent from the start. While Lucy has plans for her daughter’s future introduction to society, Grady herself has other ideas, preferring instead to throw herself into an impassioned love affair with Clyde, a Jewish parking attendant from Brooklyn.

With his rough background and lack of prospects, Clyde is most definitely not the type of man the McNeils would approve of, in spite of his earlier stint in the forces. Closer to their social circle is Peter Bell, a charming, sophisticated young chap who has known Grady since childhood. To complicate matters further, Peter is in love with Grady, a notion that has only just begun to dawn on the young girl herself.

As one might expect, the story plays out in striking fashion, building to a startling denouement that leaves an indelible mark. The contrast between the social classes is a key theme here, as is the impetuous nature of youth, a time when everything seems carefree, untethered and lacking in permanence. For a debut novel, it’s very impressive, hinting at the greatness of Capote’s output in the years to follow. The prose, in particular, is beautiful and lyrical, perfectly capturing the passion of Grady’s emotions alongside a vivid sense of place.

She would stay all afternoon and sometimes until it was dark. But it was never dark there: the lights that had been running all day grew yellow at dusk, white at night, and the faces, those dream-trapped faces, revealed their most to her then. Anonymity was part of the pleasure, but while she was no longer Grady McNeil, she did not know who it was that replaced her, and the tallest fires of her excitement burned with a fuel she could not name. (pp. 24-25)

I thoroughly enjoyed this early glimpse into Capote’s world, a novel that elegantly explores how the choices we make in the inexperience of adolescence may have profoundly damaging consequences in the weeks and months that follow.

Summer Crossing is published by Penguin, Monday Morning by Abacus; personal copies.

24 thoughts on “Literary Beginnings – Monday Morning by Patrick Hamilton and Summer Crossing by Truman Capote

  1. Marina Sofia

    Very interesting indeed to see how these writers have evolved. Do you think there was less expectation for a debut novel to be fully accomplished and sell well, like there is nowadays?

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      That’s a very interesting question. Yes, I think there is a greater expectation surrounding debut novels these days, probably because the market is much more crowded than it would have been back in 1930s or ’40s. It’s difficult to tell, but I get the sense that contemporary readers and publishers are less patient than their 20th century counterparts – less forgiving in many respects. Interestingly, the Capote stands up very well – it’s pretty accomplished for a debut novel, and the ending packs a powerful punch. The Hamilton not so much. Like Craven House, which came out a year later, it’s a little loose or baggy in places. Nevertheless, with the benefit of hindsight, the geneses of many of his trademark tropes are there just waiting to flourish.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ah, I read these in between some of the instalments of The Dance. It’s been a remarkable series to follow, absolutely worth the investment in time and effort.

  2. Brian Joseph

    This is s very interesting approach. I find that with some writers, early novels might contain common themes in less developed form. I always thought that it might be worthwhile to read all of an authors novels in publication order.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      That’s definitely the case here, particularly with the Hamilton. There’s a clear sense of him mapping out his territory – early glimpses of the Earl’s Court milieu that was to become his stamping ground in the masterpieces that followed.

      When trying a ‘new’ author, I often think it’s worth reading one of their best books first, just to get a good feel for what they’re capable of at their peak. Starting right at the beginning can be a bit of a risk, especially if an author is still trying to find their style at that point? Mind you, some writers appear fully formed from the word ‘go’. Richard Yates, for instance – what a blistering debut Revolutionary Road tuned out to be!

  3. heavenali

    Having enjoyed my first Patrick Hamilton novel a few months ago, I love the sound of Monday Morning. Summer Crossing isn’t my favourite Truman Capote novel but for a debut it’s very good. Certainly it shows the genius to come as you say, and it is very evocative in many ways.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I think you’d enjoy Monday Morning very much, particularly if you approached it with middling expectations. While it’s not Hamilton’s best by any stretch of the imagination, it does seem to be laying some of the groundwork for the masterpieces to come.

      The Capote was interesting for sure. I read somewhere that Scarlett Johansson has bought the film rights, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens to that!

  4. realthog

    The Hamilton certainly appeals (far more than the Capote, if “her eyes, so startlingly set in her fine unpolished face, caught with wit and green aliveness all atmosphere” is typical!), but I guess I should start my Hamilton adventure with, as you recommend, Hangover Square, which has been on my TBR pile for . . . ahem, some years.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Ha! Yes, I think you’re right to home in on the Hamilton. It’s probably more your type of thing than the Capote. Hangover Square is absolutely brilliant. I’ll be very interested to see what you make of it, particularly the aura surrounding Netta, the central female character in the story. She’s quite a creation – rather ‘femme fatale’ in many respects!

  5. kaggsysbookishramblings

    Lovely post Jacqui, and both writers with such memorable prose. I’ve read some of Hamilton’s later work, but not this; likewise Capote. Both obviously bear further investigation and it certainly is fascinating to go back to authors’ earlier works! :D

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, I’m glad I did it this way around, particularly with the Hamilton, While interesting from a laying-the-groundwork point of view, it’s not his strongest work when viewed in isolation. An enjoyable novel nonetheless, especially for Hamilton enthusiasts.

  6. philipanderton00

    I was really interested to read your reviews on both books, especially the Hamilton one. I’ve not long finished reading a biography of him (Through A Glass Darkly) but have yet to read Monday Morning. I’ve learned that his books were almost totally autobiographical, sort of fictionalised diaries and that Monday Morning used all his limited work experience to date – not that he ever worked much, he was determined to write full time. It’s a shame that his alcoholism not only curbed his life but his writing. Even though his debut novel clearly doesn’t have the weight of his later writing (does any first novel?) it’s on the list to read but I’m so glad you’ve included it in your journal to bring him and his novels to people’s attention. He’s being revived but his writing needs to be treasured.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Philip, for such an enlightening comment. Now that you mention it, there is a sort of fictionalised diary feel to the narrative in Monday Morning with the focus on the central character’s experiences. I can relate to that feeling of meandering along, putting off the serious business of ‘Life’ to the following week, so it’s interesting to hear about some of the influences behind the book.

      I must track down a copy of that biography you’ve mentioned, Through a Glass Darkly – such a fitting title btw, one that captures something of the essence of Hamilton’s troubled persona.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      That’s great! I think they’re both very interesting pieces, particularly for readers with some experiences of these authors’ others works.

  7. madamebibilophile

    These sound really interesting, both in themselves and to see how the writers began. I agree with the other comments that writers don’t really learn their craft through publishing now, they’re expected to have a more accomplished debut. Maybe this means there are more first and even second novels languishing in drawers now!

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      There does seem to be a greater expectation of perfection these days, virtually from the word ‘go’. I doubt very much whether books like Monday Morning would ever see the light of day in the current environment, particularly as the publishing market is much more crowded now. A pity really as it does show quite a lot of promise in spite of those rough edges!

  8. Pingback: A-Z Index of Book Reviews (listed by author) | JacquiWine's Journal

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