Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Review: Tryst, by Elswyth Thane (first review for the R.I.P. X Reading Challenge)

This is my first review for this challenge, which is hosted by 
It runs from Sept. 1st to Oct. 31st!
To participate, just click on 
the link above.
To post your reviews, click HERE.

Elswyth Thane
Hardcover, 256 pages
Aeonian Press, Reprint Edition
January 6, 2014
(first published 1939)
Classics, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Paranormal Romance

Book Synopsis: When Sabrina Archer, a lonely girl of 17, moves with her father and aunt away from their city flat in London to the lavish summer home of Nuns Farthing for her father's work, she has nothing to do but explore the English country home. Finding a locked room at the top floor of the house, Sabrina picks the lock one afternoon and subsequently spends many days trying to discover the identity of the man who used to enjoy the personal study. He seems glamorous to her and it is inevitable that she falls in love with him. But can this obsession end happily?

My Review

There are forgotten literary treasures that should be brought out into the light of day, and enjoyed by new generations. This beautiful, poignant novel is one of them. First published in 1939, it has been reprinted several times, but is now unfortunately out of print.

The first time I read this book, I was around 17 myself, and I found it in a local library. I've never forgotten it. A few years ago, I bought one of the reprint editions available, but somehow lost it..... So I bought another one on Amazon, fortunately, at a very reasonable price. When a reader does something like this, you can be sure that the book is an extra special one!

I recommend searching for this novel in local libraries, as I'm sure they will have copies available. This is a not-to-be-missed story!

Sabrina Archer is a bookish young girl, so I was able to relate to her immediately. I was delighted to discover, right along with her, a great book collection in that mysterious, locked room. However, there's something more than just books in the room, as Sabrina gradually learns. A man's entire life and personality are in that room. Sabrina is at first fascinated and intrigued. As time goes by, she begins to fall head over heels for a man she's never met....

Hilary Shenstone is an equally compelling character. He is described, by Alice, one of the other characters in the novel, as "the last of the romantics". He is a man of high ideals, as well as a man who feels things deeply. In fact, I was a bit surprised when he didn't turn out to be a writer or poet, because he certainly had the sensitivity of either. 

Hilary and Sabrina are true soul mates.  But fate played a cruel trick on these two....Hilary died in India, while on a secret mission for the British government, before he and Sabrina ever met. 

Still, they were somehow meant for each other, and, by some mysterious circumstance, found their way to each other. 

Hilary died wishing for England, for Nuns Farthing, the house rented by Sabrina's father, a university professor who is mostly oblivious to his daughter's emotional needs, and her flighty aunt, a spinster who dotes mostly on her obnoxious dog, Bella.

Hilary's final wish comes true, and he finds himself transported back to London. From there, he eventually finds his way back to Nuns Farthing, and finally meets Sabrina, who totally enchants him.

This is a very intimate novel in the sense that Thane gets inside her main characters' heads, exploring their emotions, thoughts, and spiritual longings in a very detailed way. In contrast, the reader doesn't get to know the rest of the characters as well as Sabrina and Hilary. Simply put, the other characters are shallow, except for Mrs. Pilton, the housekeeper, whose reticence hides a world of deep thoughts and emotions.

The characterizations and social environment in this novel are perfect. In many passages, Thane reminds me of Jane Austen; she's an acute observer of all the foibles of human nature, and of the English society of the time. This is all the more remarkable because she was an American writer, born and bred. 

Although she reserves the most complete portrayals for Sabrina and Hilary, the other characters are well brought to life, too. They serve as a marked contrast to the two lovers. All the other characters in the novel are rather self-centered, too, interested only in achieving their own goals, some of them even at the expense of others.

George Shenstone is certainly totally different from his brother. There is no depth to him; his emotions are limited to whatever information his senses give him. He's only interested in whatever pleasure he can get in the here and now. And he certainly doesn't share Hilary's ideals and scruples. 

His mother tells him, while he's visiting her one day, that she has always preferred him over Hilary. She has her own reasons for this, all tied to her marriage, which had not been a happy one.

Alice, Hilary's girlfriend at the beginning of the story, is not a good match for him, something she's just starting to discover when we meet her. She is a rather materialistic person, with none of Sabrina's gentle, shy, bookish nature. In fact, she is as much a contrast to Sabrina as George is to Hilary. 

As for Sabrina's family, they are comical and pathetic at the same time. Alan Archer, Sabrina's father, is a university professor intent on doing research on primitive man for a book he plans to write. This is his overriding concern, and he seriously, and unwittingly, neglects his own daughter. 

His sister, known to Sabrina as Aunt Effie, is a silly woman who also allows the opinions of the society of the time to influence her own thoughts and opinions. She, too, fails to see just how special Sabrina is. 

Both siblings mean well where Sabrina is concerned, but are unable to give her the emotional and spiritual support she so desperately needs. Nor are they able to enter her intellectual world, for Effie is not interested in books, and Alan is exclusively interested in his research, and will only read books and articles related to it.

So Sabrina is left very much to her own devices. She is also by nature a solitary girl, since she has found no one to share her inner concerns.

Until Hilary arrives, that is.

Hilary is the only person in her life who really understands her, who really knows her, in fact. He shares her worldview -- one of high ideals and lofty goals. Unfortunately, since he is a ghost, he is unable to help Sabrina live the life she was meant to live. She can only sense his presence, but can neither see nor hear him, although he does speak to her. He's already tried speaking with his friends in London, with his own family, but, of course, no one can hear him.

It's just beautiful to become totally immersed in this novel, to see how Sabrina and Hilary care so much for each other. In spite of the obvious communication barrier that makes their relationship a difficult one, they become inseparable, and their final destiny is to be together.

Perhaps the novel's most fascinating aspect is that the romance of the two protagonists is solely based on the compatibility of two souls, to the exclusion of any physical passion. This type of romance might not be for everyone, especially those who enjoy reading so-called "bodice-rippers" or more sensual romances. However, this novel will be very satisfying to those who, like me, enjoy reading about the emotional development between two lovers, even at the occasional exclusion of the physical aspect. After all, if there's no union or compatibility at the inner level, all the fire and passion on the physical level will never be enough to sustain a relationship.

The beautiful, graceful prose style of this novel is clearly  classic, and I find it incredible that it is not better appreciated by lovers of classics and literary fiction. Although I have yet to read other novels by this author, I can see that her style and subject matter place her in the genre of classic literary fiction.

This is a very sweet, touching, and totally wonderful, beautiful book, one that, again, is unforgettable. It saddens me to know that no major studio has ever decided to turn it into a film. Why no one thought of doing so, at the time of its original publication, is beyond me. I would have loved to see this as a black-and-white movie, made in the forties or early fifties. I'm not sure who could have played these characters, but I am sure that it would have been a great movie!

There are two movies by the name of "Tryst"; one was filmed in 1994, and the other in 2005. Neither one has anything to do with this novel. Unfortunately, this jewel of a book has still not been filmed.

Read this novel so you can be carried away by a love that transcends even the barriers of death, a love that will make you feel nostalgic, happy and sad, all at the same time.

About the Author

Elswyth Thane was born on May 16, 1900, and died on July 31, 1984. She was an American romance novelist from Burlington, Iowa. Her original name was Helen Ricker, which she later changed to "Elswyth Thane". 
She was not only a novelist, but a journalist and screenwriter, as well. 
Thane is most well-known for her series of historical novels, all set in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania, although later books were set in cities such as New York, Richmond, Virginia, and England.
She married the naturalist and explorer, William Beebe, in 1927.
Tryst is considered her most romantic novel.

Online Links


Mari Reads said...

I have not heard of this book before but glad you shared. You seem to have found your own book treasure.

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Mari!

I think it's very sad that this book is not better-known..... I remember the great impact it had on me when I first read it. Years later, I was able to buy one of the reprint copies; however, when my husband and I moved to a condo, in March of this year, the book either got lost, or erroneously ended up in storage. I wanted it with me on my new library shelves! I wanted to re-read it, so I looked and looked for it, but couldn't find it.....I went and bought myself another copy. I got lucky, too, because, since the book is out of print, the copies available are pricey. But I got a used copy in excellent condition, on Amazon, for only $5.97! I was thrilled!

I read the book again, and, of course, was delighted all over again! I definitely recommend this novel to you. Since it's a bit expensive to obtain, you can look for it in your local library. I'm sure they must have a copy. It's really a wonderful, not-to-be-missed book!

Thanks for commenting back!! : )