I 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)