Beryl Bainbridge

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Bainbridge, Beryl (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Bainbridge, Beryl 1933–

An English novelist whose fabric is working-class life in Liverpool, Bainbridge is noted for her telling portrayals of family life among the have-nots. A masterful delineator of character, she is said by Katha Pollit to be "never less than sharply and savagely ironic." (See also CLC, Vols. 4, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)

The Bottle Factory Outing … is one of those fictions which depend for their success on balancing comedy and horror, and on adjusting every movement to maintain the delicate weighting which contains the outbreak of tragedy within the nervous, cheerful frame. When the trick works, as it does here, the double-vision effect is unsettling and gnawing, disturbing. Miss Bainbridge by now must be reckoned a thoroughly original, even formidable, writer with a great skill for suggesting acres of complicated matter within a few paragraphs; but despite her undeniable talent, this book seems to me disappointingly thin….

[The] odd inconsequence of this book seems to me to derive from a lack of emotional urgency—required, in a book of this sort, to give point to the jumpy fun. (p. 627)

Peter Straub, in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), November 1, 1974.

Miss Bainbridge is bearing up very well; she sets her face resolutely towards the sad and the seedy, the squalid and the sloppy, and yet she never aspires to cheap sentiment….

Miss Bainbridge writes a dry and uncomplicated prose which spares her characters nothing; other people's aspirations are always comic, and Miss Bainbridge [in The Bottle Factory Outing] is so much the outsider as to be almost omniscient. Italians are very passionate and cannot help but be amusing, too, what with the "Aye, aye, aye" and "No, no, no," the broken syntax and the rolling eyeballs. All good comedy, of course, eventually breaks its own spell and there is a sour and haunted strain through the book…. The removal of the ultra-heroine disturbs the narrative somewhat, and … the prose becomes a little damper and a little more forced; the final sequences of the book are devoted to a who-didn't-do-it line which finally runs dry when the comedy turns into a fable. Freda's death is the final incongruity, and when she is all over there is nowhere else for the book to go. (p. 573)

Peter Ackroyd, in The Spectator (© 1974 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), November 2, 1974.

Miss Bainbridge keeps her sense of comedy throughout ["The Bottle Factory Outing"]. Comedy concerns itself with knowing how to live and makes its jokes out of people who don't know how. She is curious to see how her characters, all sensible and all full of good will, can botch their best efforts with such consistency. One reason is that each is blinded by a private and mistaken view of everybody else. Amenities perfected by the Late Stone Age, such as eating, defecation, conversation and sex, are all insurmountable problems in this novel. And when the rhythms of industry can better accommodate the ritual of burial than any rhythm available to Miss Bainbridge's characters, we have a complete picture of people from whom every advantage has escaped, leaving them to reinvent a culture, and to wring their hands.

Loss of culture is comic; loss of civilization is tragic. Miss Bainbridge has her comic eye on cultural confusion. She makes us see that it goes deeper than we think and touches more widely than we had imagined. The most appalling muddles can still be laughed at, and laughter is a kind of understanding. (p. 7)

Guy Davenport, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1975 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 8, 1975.

[The Bottle Factory Outing is an] absorbing social comedy, if also an implacably grim one. Miss Bainbridge … is a masterful plotter of schemes in which lust, avarice, and cruelty win the day every time over the nobler impulses of humankind. Her talent is for grounding these schemes in entirely credible...

(The entire section is 1,989 words.)