Frederic Taber Cooper (review date February 1915)
SOURCE: “Some Novels of the Month,” in The Bookman, New York, Vol. 40, February, 1915, pp. 676-77.
[In the following review, Cooper praises the wealth of cultural and sociological information found in Sinister Street.]
Arnold Bennett recently wrote, “the older I grow, the less attention I pay to technique in fiction.” The same words might apply to a majority of the younger English novelists who have come into vogue within the last decade, and among others, to Ian Hay. To this younger school, the essential thing is not a certain closely correlated series of events, uniting to make a strongly constructed drama. Events, of course, there must be, or there could be no narrative; but to these later craftsmen the essential is first, last and all the time human character, and events are interesting, not in themselves, but because of the way in which they cause certain given characters and temperaments to react. A Knight on Wheels, Ian Hay's latest novel, is an admirable instance of the newer tendency. Throughout the whole series of adventures that make up the life of Philip Meldrum, from early boyhood down to the time when the course of true love suddenly reconciles itself to running smoothly, there is not one that is glaringly false or unlikely, but neither is there any that seems inevitable. Things, we are told, simply happened in such-and-such a way, and Philip reacted in such-and-such other ways. It is all very carefully done, and without being very keenly interested in Philip's joys and sorrows, we do come to feel that we know him with an almost unjustifiable intimacy; we know beforehand just what he must inevitably say or do under given circumstances, the kind of clothes he will buy, the sort of girl he will love. But of his life, as a whole, we get no structural pattern; the author's ultimate purpose, assuming that he has one, eludes us. Ten days after reading the volume, our memory is already hazy; what stand out are, not the ground plan of the book, but isolated episodes, whimsical characters. A year from now, the name and personality of the hero himself will have become a mere wraith of memory, while on the contrary, a minor character, Philip's Uncle Joseph, will remain unforgettable,—Uncle Joseph, professed cynic and misanthrope, with his twisted morality and incurable philanthropy. Of money to spare in charity Uncle Joseph has none; but he sees that the world is filled with well-meaning, credulous souls, whose happiness lies in giving away their pounds, shillings and pence to any plausible scoundrel with a clever tale of woe. Accordingly, Uncle Joseph spends his days in concocting the most ingenious and...
(The entire section is 1101 words.)