EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF by Beryl Bainbridge


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 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.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-7867-0349-0
Page count: 224pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1996


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