The Battle of the Horizons

by Sylvia Thompson. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. (An Atlantic Monthly Press Publication.) 1928. 12mo. 322 pp. $2.50.
THIS second novel by the competent and youthful pen of the English girl whose Hounds of Spring ran down so successful a quarry on both sides of the Atlantic is by no means an anticlimax to Sylvia Thompson’s promising beginning. The ‘future’ which critics foresaw for her becomes part of an assured ‘present’ with the appearance of this later book.
The embattled horizons with which this international episode deals are metaphorical as well as literal. The story pictures the effort at mutual understanding between the Old World and the New, as typified by an English family with its roots firmly established in tradition and breeding,— even though the surface soil has been sadly torn up and impoverished by the war, — and a young American girl, self-confident, shining, secure, — new even as they are old, — her strong young certainties reënforced by every luxurious influence with which her recently prosperous parents have been able to surround her. Perhaps no thoroughly typical American can be said to exist in this land where each section breeds its own special product, while kingland is sufficiently homogeneous to have created a far more definite type. But Athene Reid presents, doubtless, a truthful picture of a rather humorless, unimaginative, but well-intentioned young woman, whose veneer of cultivation and whose self-confident patter about Art and Life form a very thin surface to cover abysses of fundamental, unsuspected ignorance. The Graham family, into which she marries by espousing the delightful Geoffrey, is thoroughly typical of what we think of as characteristically English, and we feel in this novel, as in so many others, how much more the family, as a unit, counts there than here.
Geoffrey’s mother, with her clear vision, her deep reserve, and intuitive understanding of the actual shortcomings and potential possibilities of her American daughter-in-law, forms one of the most lifelike portraits in this excellent picture gallery, where likenesses of Patricia, Bobs, Clifford, and their circle of friends epitomize modern England. The character drawing in the novel is of perhaps more interest than the plot, though that is by no means lacking in eventful happenings, and is refreshingly free from the taint of morbidity or abnormality that mars so much post-war fiction.
Whether the narrowly escaped wreck of the domestic happiness of Geoffrey and Athene would have been averted by so complete a change of character as that which transformed a selfconfident young egotist into a chastened and repentant wife may perhaps be questioned — but we are glad to accept so optimistic a result of a mother-in-law’s true talk as being possible, if not probable.
Miss Sylvia Thompson, with a sure and sagacious stroke, has driven another nail in the coffin of the conventional novel of a past era. The insight and cleverness of her work entitle her to a front seat in that ladies’ gallery of modern novelists where ‘Place aux dames has become a recognized slogan. In the case of this fresh and vivid young writer we are constrained to add also, ‘ Place à la jeunesse. ’
A. L. GRANT