Books by Beryl Bainbridge

Released: Sept. 1, 2011

"Unfinished, but a fitting and worthy coda to a storied career."
The last novel from English author Bainbridge, who died in July 2010. Read full book review >
ACCORDING TO QUEENEY by Beryl Bainbridge
Released: Aug. 1, 2001

"Absolutely wonderful. Grateful thanks, too, to Carroll & Graf, which has stepped in where many 'major' publishers have faltered, bringing us the otherwise neglected recent work of British masters like the late Anthony Burgess and the irresistible, indispensable Beryl Bainbridge."
The Grand Cham of 18th-century English letters is the primary subject of Bainbridge's majestically deft new novel: the best yet in her series of dazzling historical reconstructions of British history (Master Georgie, 1998, etc.). Read full book review >
MASTER GEORGIE by Beryl Bainbridge
Released: Nov. 1, 1998

Bainbridge's 16th novel—and the third consecutive one based on historical fact (following The Birthday Boys, 1994, and Every Man for Himself, 1996)—offers perhaps the most brilliant demonstration yet of her matchless gift for storytelling concision and subtle suggestiveness. George Hardy is a successful Liverpool surgeon and amateur photographer—and a closeted, depressed alcoholic and homosexual who will seek his manhood by volunteering his services to soldiers wounded during the Crimean War. We learn these facts, if little else about Hardy, in six chapters narrated by the three people who believe they know "Master Georgie" best: the orphan girl Myrtle (adopted by the Hardy family), who devotes her life to him, even unto surreptitiously bearing the children his barren wife claims as their own; his brother-in-law Dr. Potter, a geologist and classical scholar whose portentous mid-Victorian homilies can neither explain nor even reach the distracted George; and Pompey Jones, a resourceful street-urchin and performer (specializing as a "fire-eater") whose accidental entry into the doctor's life makes him the latter's all-purpose assistant, and occasional lover. From a deftly understated narrative keyed to six glancingly described photographs (each marking an important moment in her "hero's" life), Bainbridge creates a haunting picture of a world in which human relationships are ruled by accident and people's understanding of others is decisively distorted and limited by their own inner natures. The great events (such as the Charge of the Light Brigade) and figures (Florence Nightingale) of the Crimean ordeal linger faintly in the background as the ghastly momentum of the war's carnage (climaxing at Sebastopol) is filtered through the expertly differentiated consciousness of the three narrators. And, in a triumph of imaginative empathy, Bainbridge captures the mystery and pathos of her characters' essential aloneness in such distressing images as the sight of cherries rotting in a dead soldier's lap or our final view of Myrtle, hovering in grief "like a bird above a robbed nest." An exemplary work from one of Britain's finest writers. (First printing of 50,000) Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 1, 1998

A loose-knit collection of personal essays, all of them short, irreverent, and revealing, by one of Britain's top novelists (Every Man for Himself, 1996; The Birthday Boys, 1994; etc.) When she first began her column for the London Evening Standard in the late '80s, Bainbridge claims that she "mistakenly attempted to grapple with so-called burning issues," only to realize that such an undertaking required much research. Overwhelmed by the effort, she soon turned her attention home again. "I'm not bothered," she writes, "with causes or hard facts; my preoccupation is not with the immediate how and why of the lives we lead, but rather with a raking over of the life we once knew." And so she does, with self-deprecating wit and a knack for character-revealing detail. The character she exposes, however, is her own. Bainbridge casts herself as the slightly addled owner of a ramshackle house overrun by various adult daughters and their assorted children. At every turn, the author's efforts to write her column are interrupted by their comings and goings, as well as those of her secretary, her cleaning woman, her cat, her local ghost and equally local policeman. The tumult provides Bainbridge with enough centrifugal force to connect the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous, completely bypassing the sublime. Who else would link a brief discussion of philosopher David Hume to a failed attempt to rent a geriatric guest from the Council housing project for Christmas? Or use the event of a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra to reflect upon a ruptured carbuncle and the decline of British manners? Although hardly profound, Bainbridge has a way of skewering her own foibles and those of the larger society with a deft pen, casually mixing and matching personal and social phenomena with the odd faux pas. Thus Bainbridge succeeds in creating a book of short essays as salty and addictive as a bag of crisps. (drawings by author, not seen) Read full book review >
EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF by Beryl Bainbridge
Released: Nov. 1, 1996

The 1912 maiden voyage of the Titanic—not played for the usual melodrama but used, half-successfully, as the backdrop for the coming-of-age story of a well-connected, uncertain young man. Harvard grad Morgan has plenty to be uncertain about. His early childhood was a blur of poverty, abandonment, and abuse—all ended when he was rescued, Dickens-style, by the family of his millionaire uncle-by-marriage (apparently J.P. Morgan himself). As a result, Morgan has grown up in great wealth but is still haunted by bygone scandal and loss. Now, having worked as an apprentice draughtsman at the London firm that designed the wondrous Titanic, Morgan is heading home to New York on the luxury liner—a floating metaphor (with its glamorous topdecks and steerage squalor below), for his layered identity. By the time disaster strikes, Morgan's world has already been upended. He has timidly attempted his first amour—only to find that the cool socialite he worships is engaged in a seemingly loveless affair with a middle-aged man-of-the-world (whom Morgan has seen as a surrogate father). Disturbed by the ill treatment of the ship's crew, he questions the values of his glittery, hypocritical circle—and frets over his lack of direction. So, when the shipwreck comes, it's a chance for Morgan to prove himself—and to see how certain social and moral attitudes play out in the face of crisis and death. Bainbridge doesn't always find the perfect balance between Morgan's introspective story (only intermittently affecting) and the familiar Titanic epic, and this lacks the gripping quality of her finest historical fictions (Young Adolf, 1979; The Birthday Boys, 1994). But her gift for lean yet resonant narration—vivid details and images, startling dialogue, telling anecdotes—remains one of modern fiction's marvels, and at its best this bildungsroman-at-sea (with more than a few echoes of Conrad) casts a dark, doomy spell. Read full book review >
THE BIRTHDAY BOYS by Beryl Bainbridge
Released: April 15, 1994

In her 14th work of fiction, Bainbridge (An Awfully Big Adventure, 1991, etc.) reconstructs that most poignant of ill-fated journeys, Scott's 1912 South Pole expedition, in the voices of the five explorers who reached the Pole and died soon afterwards. The three-year trip was designed as a scientific expedition as well as a conquest of the Pole. In 1910 the Terra Nova, a converted whaling ship, was seen off with great fanfare in London and Cardiff. Bainbridge imagines an ebullient shipboard mood as the officers play schoolboy games in the wardroom, while in their quieter moments the younger officers fret over whether they are up to the challenge. In fact, they endure uncomplainingly the antarctic cold, treacherous terrain, and round-the-clock midwinter dark. (Bainbridge writes as though she'd traveled every numbing mile herself). These are God-fearing men, exulting in the chance ``to stand up and be counted'' for king and country, yet never mere caricatures of muscular Christianity. Bainbridge gives us five well-differentiated individuals. Especially complex is their leader, ``Con'' Scott, a disciplined yet big-hearted Royal Navy man who for a second loses control, yearning for a shootout, when he hears that Norwegian Roald Amundsen is ahead of them in the race. Sure enough, after a hellish final trek, Scott and company find a Norwegian flag at the Pole. Bainbridge ends her account with team member Oates, filled with morphine, making his celebrated stoic exit into the blizzard. Departing from contemporary woes, Bainbridge has found gold in the dreams of the last big-time explorers unaided by technology. A triumph of sympathetic imagination. Read full book review >
Released: March 13, 1990

This latest from Bainbridge (Mum and Mr. Armitage, 1987), who writes best about that other England of unemployment and wasteland cities, is characteristically bleak and black in humor, but the foreshadowed denouement is disappointingly melodramatic. When young Stella, who "always had a precise notion of what could be expected of her," shows an interest in the theater, her ambitious uncle Vernon, through a business contact, arranges for her to join the local theater company. Brought up by uncle Vernon and Lily in the lodging house they run in a seedy section of Liverpool, Stella is a moody girl who runs away from affection and makes mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night. But she is immediately enchanted by the theater company—a shabby Dickensian group of aging ingÇnues, addicts of one sort or another, and the minimally talented who put on everything from Peter Pan to Caesar and Cleopatra In love with the director, the monocled and aloof Meredith, Stella willingly runs errands, works the lights, and acts small parts, while the company, who treat her like a pet, is riven by jealousies, old passions, and new obsessions. When the actor playing Captain Hook breaks his leg and a former company member takes over the part, everything is rapidly brought to its increasingly foreseen ending. All is explained, including the mysterious telephone calls, and Stella, despite the messiness of it all, announces that "I'll know how to behave next time. I'm learning." Bainbridge has a wonderful sense of the telling details that establish class and setting, but the story, initially intriguing, soon degenerates into the predictable, and Stella, an original, becomes merely a dramatic prop. A rite of passage that founders. Read full book review >