A WEEKEND WITH CLAUDE by Beryl Bainbridge


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Bainbridge devotees who find this ""new"" novel considerably less forceful than her recent fiction--Injury Time, A Quiet Life, or even last year's Winter Garden--won't be surprised to learn that it's a reworking of her very first published book, circa 1967 (which didn't appear in the US). So, instead of the crisp immediacy and single-character focus of Bainbridge at her best, here the pathos/comedy is delivered through a stiff flashback format and rotating narrators--as a clutch of eccentric, sad/mean Bainbridgean sorts relive an edgy weekend-gathering at the house of bearded antiquedealer Claude and his companion Julia (the woman who pulled Claude back together when his wife and kids walked out on him). The central guest is Claude's longtime platonic (?) friend Lily, beak-nosed and thick-ankled and a frequent loser in love, who matter-of-factly recalls the main purpose of the weekend visit: secretly pregnant by a heartless ex-lover, she arrives with new love Edward, hoping he'll propose and be fooled into thinking the baby is his. But two other guests also get spotlight attention for their versions of the same events: Lily's young chum ""Victorian Norman"" (so named for his apparel) recounts his farcical attempted seduction of the weirdly complacent Julia, along with comments on his somewhat ambivalent Marxism; and Lily's dear old pal Shebah, an elderly Jewish woman who's turned off by the libidinous going-on, tetchily goes over her weekend embarrassments: accidentally breaking some objets d'art on Saturday night while recreating a bit of her show-biz past. . . and being shot at (on purpose?) by Claude the next day. As usual, then, the Bainbridge world is one of love-hungry misfits stumbling into injury instead of passion. As usual, too, there are several successfully awful moments--with social decorum collapsing, bitterness surfacing, or slicing comedy covering up the misery. But the multiple voices here, while conscientiously crafted, are never as involving as the slyly neutral narration of later Bainbridge; sentimentality creeps through far too often; and one is always too aware of a hard-working author arranging the assorted curious behavior. Minor Bainbridge, then--neither as sad, comic, or effectively chilly as her best--but modestly rewarding on its own, fragmentary terms.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1982
Publisher: Braziller