BAINBRIDGE, Beryl (born 1934) British novelist
In British music-hall and stand-up comedy, there is a tradition of using flat, unemotional words to recount the disasters that happen to perfectly ordinary people, whose boring lives conceal passions and aspirations the speaker can only hint at. Bainbridge’s short, dialogue-filled novels do the same thing in print. They are horror stories told like everyday gossip, and their downbeat wit and plain style are essential to the effect. The Bottle-factory Outing is about two women, pathologically jealous of one another, who share a flat and make plans for the seductions and other delights of a works outing – which turns out darkly different from anything either suspected. In Another Part of the Wood a group of friends bicker on a doomed joint holiday in a Welsh forest cottage. In several books, Bainbridge uses real historical characters, imagining for them the same kind of chance-ridden, often desperate lives as those of her invented people. Young Adolf sends Hitler to a tatty 1919 Liverpool boarding house filled with Bainbridge eccentrics. The Birthday Boys is a retelling, a chapter by each of the men involved, of Scott’s disastrous 1910–12 Antarctic expedition.
MASTER GEORGIE (1998)
The best and bleakest of Bainbridge’s historical fictions, this is the story of Liverpudlian surgeon and photographer George Hardy, who volunteers to take his medical skills to the war in the Crimea. Accompanied by an eccentric entourage of family and friends, including Myrtle, his adoring adoptive sister, and Dr Potter, his increasingly troubled brother-in-law, George flounders through the death and disease of the war in search of meanings that aren’t there. Told in a series of narrative voices – including those of Myrtle and Dr Potter – this is a dark, laconic and moving story that long remains in the mind. Bainbridge’s other novels include A Quiet Life, Harriet Said, The Dressmaker, Sweet William, Injury Time, Watson’s Apology and According to Queeney, another of Bainbridge’s offbeat historical fictions in which Dr Johnson is seen through the often unforgiving eyes of the daughter of a woman with whom he is conducting an intense but platonic relationship.
Thematically or Stylistically Related Books For Further Reading:
An Awfully Big Adventure (set in shabby provincial theatre in the bleak 1950s);
Every Man For Himself (Bainbridge’s typically idiosyncratic take on the Titanic disaster).
Paul Bailey, Sugar Cane;
Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden;
Alice Thomas Ellis, The Inn at the Edge of the World;
Hilary Mantel, The Giant O’Brien
Source Credits: Nick Rennison, Good Reading Guide: Discover Your Next Great Read, Bloomsbury Publishing, Seventh Edition