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If Compton Mackenzie is known at all now, it is as the author of entertainments like Whisky Galore and Monarch of the Glen. These are successful in their own right, but give no clue as to his prodigious talents as a young novelist in the early part of the twentieth-century. To realize why he was so highly regarded then you need to read Sinister Street.
Owing to its length it was originally published in two parts, in 1913 and 1914. As a bildsungroman it can bear comparison with Dickens' David Copperfield. That perceptive critic of the Georgian literary scene, Frank Swinnerton, described it as thus. 'It is the picture of the development of a very precocious boy into a sophisticated young man of the nineteen-tens, and the picture is painted with a detail and wealth of reference unattempted by other authors of Mackenzie's experience. It illustrates most of its author's gifts, and all his faults. It is lavish, it contains rodomontade, it is literary, sentimental and florid. But it has no timidities; it is large and confident; it is a picture of something more than a single life. It is a record of a departed generation.'
More succinctly, John Betjeman said of it, 'This has always seemed to me one of the best novels of the best period in English novel writing.'
In short, it shows abundantly why Henry James thought it to be the most remarkable book written by a young author in his lifetime. It a classic waiting to be rediscovered.
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Compton Mackenzie (1883-1972) was a writer with a huge output, over ninety books. He wrote too much, but novels like Sinister Street, satires like Vestal Fire and Extraordinary Women and entertainments like Whisky Galore deserve to survive. He was born in West Hartlepool, educated at St Paul's School and Magdalen College, Oxford (his upbringing is vividly described in Sinister Street). During the First World War he became Director of the Aegean Intelligence Service. He had wide interests: he co-founded The Gramophone magazine in 1923: he was President of the Siamese Cat Club: he was a Scottish nationalist. He also like islands, living on Capri and Barra, and was lampooned for this by D. H. Lawrence, appearing as Mr Cathcart in the short story 'The Man Who Loved Islands'. He thought of suing but, in the end, ticked D. H. Lawrence off for suggesting cowslips could grow in a granite landscape; they prefer lime.
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Book Description Faber Finds. Paperback. Condition: Brand New. In Stock. Seller Inventory # 0571250416