Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Belfry by May Sinclair

322 pages
Published 1916
by Macmillan Company
in New York, NY

"Well, that's exactly what he did have. He had my luck, I mean the luck I ought to have had, all the time, from the beginning to the very end. But there is one thing he can't take from me, and that is the telling of this story."
The Plot:
The Belfry, told in three "books" is the story of one Tasker "Jimmy" Jevons. In the first "book" the reader is introduced to Jimmy by the narrator, a friend named Walter. It is 1905 and Jimmy is a young struggling journalist without a half crown to his name, but with big dreams. These dreams include winning the heart of Walter's beautiful secretary, Viola. Much to the disbelief and somewhat annoyance of Walter (and those around him) Jimmy professes great foreknowledge of his future success as well as various events that will occur over the course of the next few months or years. To make matters worse, scandal ensues when Viola is discovered to have traveled to Belgium with Jimmy to see a belfry.

By the second part of the book Jimmy has time and time again achieved exactly what he set out to accomplish, including fame and fortune as a world-renowned author, play-write, and literary critic. Unfortunately the only thing he hasn't gained is the respect of his in-laws, including his wife's favorite brother. And then the darkness settles. Like a shooting star, Jimmy's career seems short-lived, his family life seems to be falling apart, and Jimmy seems to be in a world of his own consumed by wealth. To top this the ominous cloud of war approaches, the very war he foretold!

And then in the last third of the book the whole story turns upside down. And in a heroic moment set on a European battlefield the reader, as well as the narrator, discovers there is truly more than meets the eye when it comes to Tasker "Jimmy" Jevons.

My Thoughts:
It was last September while reading Agatha Christie's memoirs that I first learned of the English novelist May Sinclair. In her memoir Christie said of Sinclair, "I think she was one of our finest and most original novelists, and I cannot help feeling that there will be a revival of interest in her some day, and that her works will be republished."

I considered this as strong a recommendation for reading an author as any, so I set out to find one or two titles by May Sinclair that Agatha Christie had specifically mentioned in her memoir. Unfortunately while I was able to locate a few of Sinclair's novels through my library's ILL program it did not appear that they were the same as those mentioned by Christie. To add to my disappointment none of the books available included any plot information and I was not able to find any further information online. (Oddly enough many of Sinclair's novels are still in print, but no plot summaries or book reviews are available!)

In the end I settled for The Belfry because I liked the opening paragraph (above) and it sparked my interest.

At first I found the story a little slow going as I was unsure which direction the story was taking. And then for a time I thought I knew where it was headed and that it might be a 1916 English version of The Great Gatsby, or perhaps something worse like Evelyn Waugh's depressing novel, Brideshead Revisited. But because Christie had spoken so well of Sinclair's writing I kept reading. It's a good thing I didn't stop and it's an even better thing that I didn't get sidetracked by researching Sinclair as a person, for as if by magic, I read past the hundred and ninth page and suddenly I found I couldn't set the story aside.

I soon realized that The Belfry was so much more than I originally thought. Yes, it is a story of a self-made man and there are some sad elements, but it is also a real eye-opener about relationships (be they family, friends, or marital) and a study of people. As I finished The Belfry I found that I had learned some interesting things about the nature of people just as the narrator discovered some surprising truths about himself and about Jimmy.

In the end I was glad I persevered in reading The Belfry. I have since discovered that it was one of the books Agatha Christie referenced in her memoir, but published under a different name. In fact, it is the one novel Christie declared to be Sinclair's "masterpiece."

So having enjoyed The Belfry will I give Sinclair a second chance? Definitely!
She's unlike any other author I've read to date. I enjoyed her writing style, the story she wove and I appreciated that she included hope and happiness for her characters without sacrificing the feeling of realness for the story as a whole.

Would I recommend Sinclair to other readers? To that I am not yet sure. From what I've since read about May Sinclair I can't say that I agree with many of her worldviews, but that doesn't mean that her other novels aren't worth reading. I think I will wait and see what I think of some of her other books before I shout her name from the blogging rooftops. In the meantime I definitely recommend The Belfry (also published as: Tasker Jevons: The Real Story). It is definitely a worthwhile read and one I'm glad I chanced to read. ~

Related Links:
The Belfry (Kindle - Free E-Book)
The Belfry (Gutenberg - Free E-Book)
The Belfry (Google - Free E-Book)

May Sinclair - Wikipedia


Buried In Print said...

I've read -- and enjoyed -- her novel Mary Olivier, and I thought I'd also read The Life and Death of Harriett Frean (but can't find any notes on it just now), and would definitely be interested in reading more: thanks for bringing this one to my reader's attention.

Marie said...

Sounds like something to keep in mind. I appreciate your thoughts on this!