Beryl Bainbridge 1933–
English novelist, playwright, and essayist.
Bainbridge's fictional world is drab and claustrophobic, peopled by unhappy, unlucky denizens of the lower-middle class. The dreariness of subject and setting is, however, relieved by her satiric wit and spirited dialogue.
(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 5, 8, 10, 14, 18, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed.)
Beryl Bainbridge's books are commemorative. They are an attempt to save something from [the] flux. They are an attempt at preservation.
[Harriet Said, is set outside Liverpool] on the coast. The narrator is an adolescent girl, somewhat in the power of another, Harriet, who supervises her dangerous liaison with a middle-aged married man known to them as the Tsar. The girls are precocious and beady: but they also miss the point of certain developments in the adult life which surrounds them, and with which, as with fire, they proceed to play. A diary is kept (this, after all, is the Forties—a great age for diaries). They peer at the people of the neighborhood, and peep through curtains as the Tsar and his wife make love. Together with a brash male friend, the Tsar admits the nymphets to his house when his wife is away. There is a bit of drinking, a bit of piano playing. There is confusion, grief, remorse, but nothing in the way of congress. (p. 25)
Eventually the narrator is "had" by the Tsar, and it is like a visit to the dentist, no worse…. At the finish, there is isolation, and "responsibility" is mocked. For one thing, [the narrator] has suffered the loss of Harriet, whose role in her life she has come to comprehend.
This is an absorbing novel, with its own voice. But it is a little incoherent, and it is not always clear—at the tactical level, so to speak—what is going on…. This does not interfere, however, with [Bainbridge's] ability to work up climaxes and to secure the reader's attention at the strategic level. It may be that a question arises concerning the violent deaths she is apt to inflict, as [in Harriet Said]. Is she really a writer of thrillers, of what Graham Green regards as entertainments—fashionably black ones at that? (pp. 25-6)
[In A Weekend with Claud her] interest in isolation is expressed strategically—in the structure of the novel. Maggie and her friends go to stay in the country with the pretentious bearded antique dealer, Claud. A shot rings out, and a self-intoxicated elderly Jewish woman, Shebah, a virtuoso griever and outcast, is mildly winged. The same story is told and retold by members of this circle of friends—Maggie, Shebah, the self-assured Victorian Norman, as he's nicknamed—and a sense of the separateness of each one of them is conveyed. Maggie may at one or two points be felt to incorporate a portrait of the artist, or of part of her: she is fascinating, adored, doubted, slatternly, a manipulator of people's interest in her, a loser in love, a great actress—a poor punctuator, very likely. These friends need one another, in varying degrees: in varying degrees, too, they are alienated from one another, and disloyal, if not positively beady.
In this novel especially, the storytelling can be hard to follow, and the reader stumbles over a profusion of rare words that somehow seem doubtfully spelled. And yet none of this appears to matter very much, and the tactical successes are frequent and cherishable. In its best episodes, the book is wonderfully alert to the flow of feeling between the friends, to the … hostility, to the bitter humor which envelops its losses and departures. On this showing, Beryl Bainbridge might be thought to belong to a particular line of English women writers: intelligent outcasts, some of them, specialists, some of them, in what makes families families. But there is probably no call to imagine this sort of sisterliness for her. At her most...
(The entire section contains 3283 words.)
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- Critical Essays