Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sinister Street

Compton Mackenzie’s Sinister Street was stationed in the mud room for several years - there are bookcases everywhere - and was transferred lately to the dining room bookcase because it sounded just weird enough to add to the TBR. It was a free association thing: after Hugh Walpole, why not Compton Mackenzie, because the two wrote in the same period, knew each other, and when Mackenzie was praised by Henry James, Walpole became furiously jealous (as he was of almost every writer).

But this post is about Mackenzie.

Compton Mackenzie is now best known for Monarch of the Glen, a comedy many of us know from the TV series, but his 90 books were eclectic, ranging from the farcical to the serious: the bildungsroman Sinister Street is regarded by many as his masterpiece. So captivated am I by this brilliant novel, which documents the coming-of-age of Michael Fane, a serious, moody, changeable character whom we follow from his unhappy childhood, during which he pines for an absent mother (Part One, Prison House), through his prep-school and public-school days(Book Two, Classic Education), on to his Oxford days (Book Three, Dreaming Spires), and on to his life in Londo , that I’ve been declaiming impetuously, “THIS IS THE BEST BOOK I’VE EVER READ.”

Everybody’s pointing out that there’s room left in 800 pages for Mackenzie to disappoint, AND that I said the same thing about War and Peace. Well, there's no comparison, of course.

But not only does this novel have impetus and flow, it is also an intensely well-written, detailed narrative focusing on different systems of education and their effect on formation of an intelligent, independent character - Fane, entering adolescence, decides, after years of classical education, to change to the "modern" side, because he has lost interest in scholarship and now wants only to leave school. Many are the influences on Fane: the absent mother and mystery about his dead father; his creative governess;religion; poetry. More about this later.


Diane Perry said...

Am enjoying your blog a lot. Am wondering if you are a fan of Barbara Pym?

If you feel like responding to me, please email me at:


--Diane Perry

Mad Housewife said...

I love Barbara Pym! She's one of my favorite writers. Every year I think about going to the Barbara Pym Society meeting. Since her books are short it would be easy to stay on top of the material.

Thanks for stopping by!