“I wanted to know every aspect of Bart and Bettina Dawes’s lives up until the present day, especially the scandalous parts”
BY SARAH WINGROVE
Bart likes men and Bettina likes women. With the societal expectations of the 1920s weighing down on them, the two childhood friends decide to get engaged, hiding and protecting their true desires with their ‘lavender marriage’. However, wedded life is never going to be straightforward, especially for author, Crystal Jeans’ “inverts”, as they navigate child-rearing, jealousy and wartime with the fear of being outed constantly looming. The book opens in the 1990s as the couple’s middle-aged daughter and grandson start to query some of the (possibly murderous) actions their raucous relatives took in their glory days. Time shifts and the fun truly begins as the story drifts back to Bart and Bettina’s youth in the 20s.
Often caustic and cruel in their behaviours towards one another, their family and lovers, this is one of those books where you are not always going to root for the protagonists! However, you certainly won’t want to wait to turn the page and revel in their misadventures, of which there are many. Jeans does an incredible job of slowly shifting through the decades and her attention to historic detail is a joy to read. Developing the psyches of two complex and growing characters across their adulthood into middle, and then old age is deftly and believably done, and the experiences of Bart and Bettina clearly shape who they become later in the book.
The romances and relationships they have are viscerally described and this is truly one of the most realistic depictions of the spectrum of relationships two people can have that I have ever read. The secondary characters have intriguing and well-rounded motivations also, and it is these elements which help the world of this book blossom. References to real “inverts” are dotted throughout and are woven into the fabric of the story naturally. I won’t spoil any names but the name-dropping of key figures of queer history effectively grounds these characters in their time period, and it is clear that Jeans has done her research.
The plot seems to meander a little in the last third of the book, and the murder mystery that is raised in the first pages plays second fiddle to the intricate melding of the private and public lives of the protagonists. Indeed, it is a testament to the author’s skill, that I wanted to know every aspect of Bart and Bettina Dawes’s lives up until the present day, especially the scandalous parts.
The sex scenes are well placed and at no point feel shoe-horned into the plot or provided solely for titillation. They are often the greatest source of humour in the novel, and it’s a pleasure to tread behind the nostalgic veneer of the period setting and read about two characters experiencing different kinds of connection with one another and others, whether that be the culmination of a brewing romance, or a passionate tryst in a cupboard….
Perfect for fans of Tipping the Velvet and Gentleman Jack, the quirky and tongue-in-cheek comedy of The Inverts strikes a brilliant balance with the honest depiction of a culture permeated by generalised homophobia and misogyny. This is a delicious and diligent piece of fiction that will provide you with enough great comebacks to last a lifetime.
Many thanks to Borough Press of Harper Collins for providing me with a proof in return for a review. This is a delightful book I wish to fling at my friends with affectionate abandon.
The Inverts is set for release on hardback 1 April 2021.
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