'It was as if they had all been plucked up out of nowhere, and set down with the express purpose of being amusing or interesting or something, and they had all been found wanting. It was so embarrassing, not knowing what way to be …' Reflecting on the evening gathering in one of the wooden huts at the Nant MacFarley camp a participant sums up the main matter of Another Part of the Wood. The camp is presided over by the physically large, but otherwise little defined George, son of the absent, paternalist MacFarleys whose brain-child it is. The assembled guests are an odd and chance mixture….
Their few days together are described with acuity; they are shown to be narrow, blind, selfish, strange and yet dread-fully ordinary. In fact, thoughts attributed to them (like the one quoted above) sometimes go beyond what you believe the characters to be capable of seeing, sound rather like the authorial voice displaced. One other small complaint is that the occasional flaw in style causes a hiccup in concentration. A sentence like 'a flux of tears came into Kidney's sparkling eyes', for example, sidetracks you into wondering about words themselves. Maybe these few roughnesses come from the fact that this is a rewriting of a novel first published in the Sixties.
The campers are made to talk, however, in a way that always convinces utterly. Irritating habits of speech—'The little woman loves her sweeties'—niggle away at already strained relationships. There is plenty of this all-too-lifelike talking, but little listening….
This is not as dispiriting as it may all sound. The acuteness of the observation has entertainment value and also makes for a detachment from the characters which means that you don't actually care very much on their behalf. There are some moments of exhilaration….
Nevertheless, Beryl Bainbridge's skill remains above all in establishing an intimate relationship between the ordinary and the horrible. Not only is much ordinariness, when ruthlessly treated, pretty horrible in itself, but also it is out of banal things that the sad, yet unGothic, ending of the book grows. The concluding event is not a towering finale to an inevitable, foreseen process; it is not any one person's fault. Rather it is the culmination of misunderstanding, thoughtless teasing, failure to listen and selfish pre-occupation. And it brings not the catharsis of tragedy, but only 'a general exodus, a dispersal into the landscape, a journey into another part of the wood'.
Gillian Wilce, "Rub and Bump," in New Statesman (© 1979 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 98, Nos. 2544 & 2545, December 21 & 28, 1979, p. 1009.
The early Bainbridge dwelt on each moment, was too explicit; when a character spoke, he also made a physical gesture or his hair shone in the sunlight, and his inner thoughts and his effect on his audience were carefully explained…. In the earlier version [of Another Part of the Wood] events moved so slowly, because of her overwriting of each moment, that reading it was like wading through treacle.
The conciseness of the cut version is a great improvement. The pruning of adjectives sometimes goes too far—'her little teeth set like pegs between her violet lips' makes more sense than 'her teeth set like pegs between her lips', which is merely grotesque. Pegs can be any size. And I miss some of the proliferating Sixties details, such as that awful song 'When you come to the end of a lollipop, plop goes your heart'. But repetitions are banished, striving for effect—like 'salvation fingers'—has gone, and the sloppy punctuation has been made almost perfect.
The feeling of muddle in the earlier version was rather appropriate to the story. It was a typically Bainbridgean comic scenario with undertones of violence….
The cut version emphasises the comedy of awkwardness, and the author's more earnest moments, pointing out the failure of love that causes [one character's] death, are removed. All this makes it more of a piece with...
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