The Inverts by Crystal Jeans: A marriage of convenience

Cover inage for The Inverts by Crystal JeansI couldn’t resist that jacket which I spotted on Twitter earlier in the year accompanied by complimentary comments about the book by people whose opinions I trust. The Inverts is Crystal Jeans’ first novel from a large publisher having had two published by Welsh indie Honno Press. With luck, if this one is as successful as it deserves, Honno will see a little uptick in sales of the others. The Inverts is about a marriage between Bettina and Bartholomew, one that will give them the veneer of respectability beneath which they can let their true desires rip.

We’re having some poetry in the garden later. I tried to get Siegfried Sasoon down for a reading but it’s impossible to nail the bugger down

Bet and Bart have known each other all their lives; their wealthy parents are neighbours and their mothers best friends. Aged seventeen, after years of teasing, sharing confidences, inseparable apart from school, Bart makes a lunge at the gorgeously voluptuous Bet. They both feel nothing. Four years later facts are faced: both prefer their own sex but this is the 1920s, respectability must be maintained and they hit on the perfect solution. Why not marry each other? Their honeymoon is spent in Paris where Bart introduces Bet to Étienne, the love of his life, full of contempt for Bart’s wealth while only too pleased to join the happy couple in their London home. Faced with a sudden tragedy, both decide they’d like a child. First Tabitha is born then Monty. Bart’s acting career takes him to Hollywood while Bet enjoys her own adventures in London. As the years march on, their marriage becomes stormier eventually ruptured by a particularly vituperative row. Bart goes off to entertain the troops when war breaks out, resurrecting his most famous Hollywood role, while Bet becomes a land girl, discovering her vocation as a rat catcher. On a visit to her mother, Bet is discovered in flagrante which leads to a reconciliation with Bart thanks to an act that will come back to haunt them.

He recalled a night in the early 30s when a mob of evangelists had formed outside the bar, throwing eggs at the door (ah, the luxurious excesses of pre-rationing)

Jeans’ novel manages to be both hilarious and poignant in its depiction of this unconventional marriage entered into for appearances’ sake. Both Bet and Bart are careless of their privilege, caught up in their pursuit of pleasure to the point of being thoroughly obnoxious spoiled brats at times but they’re also outrageously funny, occasionally endearing and their war experiences improve them no end, particularly Bet. Despite their sarcastic carping, these two share a deep bond that lasts through seventy years of marriage. Jeans pokes pleasing fun at the upper classes while managing to retain our affection for the louche couple who are the stars of the show, weaving vivid period detail through their various shenanigans. There’s a serious side to all this fun, of course. Marriage may have worked after a fashion for Bet and Bart but it was often a sorry solution leading to a miserable life for both partners made to live a lie by an intolerant society. If you’re in the market for a romp with an unusual premise and don’t mind a bit of filth with your humour, I’d recommend this one.

The Borough Press: London 9780008365875 384 pages Hardback (read via NetGalley)

9 thoughts on “The Inverts by Crystal Jeans: A marriage of convenience”

  1. I’m always amazed by how you manage to find and feature books I’ve never heard of 🙂 This does sound rather delightful. I’m reminded of the marriage between Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West: they each had their own predilections and lovers, yet their relationship sustained them.

    1. Ha! Too much time spent on Twitter, I imagine. I suspect the Nicolson/Sackville-West marriage was a little more decorous than Bart and Bet’s but I may be wrong.

  2. Pingback: Winding Up the Week #165 – Book Jotter

  3. Do you feel like you’re reading more from NetGalley what with the impact of the pandemic on publishing and the economy, or are your habits pretty much unchanged?

    Coincidentally, I’ve also just finished a book featuring an Etienne. It’s not a very common name in English lit, so that jumped out at me. (Keisha Bush’s No Heaven for Good Boys).

    1. Definitely the impact of the pandemic! This kind of straightforward linear narrative works well for me as an ebook but when use of language is part of the pleasure I need print.

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