If Compton Mackenzie is known at all now, it is as the author of entertainments like "Whisky Galore" and "Monarch of the Glen". These are successful in their own right, but give no clue as to his prodigious talents as a young novelist in the early part of the twentieth-century. To realize why he was so highly regarded then you need to read "Sinister Street". Owing to its length it was originally published in two parts, in 1913 and 1914. As a bildsungroman it can bear comparison with Dickens' "David Copperfield". That perceptive critic of the Georgian literary scene, Frank Swinnerton, described it as thus. 'It is the picture of the development of a very precocious boy into a sophisticated young man of the nineteen-tens, and the picture is painted with a detail and wealth of reference unattempted by other authors of Mackenzie's experience. It illustrates most of its author's gifts, and all his faults. It is lavish, it contains rodomontade, it is literary, sentimental and florid. But it has no timidities; it is large and confident; it is a picture of something more than a single life. It is a record of a departed generation.'
More succinctly, John Betjeman said of it, 'This has always seemed to me one of the best novels of the best period in English novel writing.' In short, it shows abundantly why Henry James thought it to be the most remarkable book written by a young author in his lifetime. It a classic waiting to be rediscovered.