THE GIRL IN THE POLKA DOT DRESS by Beryl Bainbridge

THE GIRL IN THE POLKA DOT DRESS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The last novel from English author Bainbridge, who died in July 2010.

Against the chaotic backdrop of 1968 America, a young British woman, Rose, and an angry widower pursue an elusive figure, admired and mythologized by her and murderously despised by him, from East Coast to West, a pursuit that culminates (though it doesn't quite end) at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. on the June night when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Rose has come to the U.S. in search of Dr. Wheeler, who seems (all exposition in this book comes through a glass, darkly) to have been her protector during an awful adolescence. She is met in Baltimore and accompanied on her search—it’s a kind of accompaniment that resembles hostage-holding—by someone she knows only as Washington Harold, an ill-tempered, secretive man whose wife had an affair with Wheeler and then committed suicide. Harold is, as the sometimes savvy and sometimes childishly self-absorbed Rose seems to intuit, using her; he intends to take revenge. Everywhere they go along the way they encounter mayhem and threat—a botched bank robbery in which a gun is held to Rose's head, killings, near-riots, racial animus. Bainbridge died before she could finish her 17th novel, and toward the end, especially, this odd, angular picaresque feels chaotic and choppy. Still, it shows off the author’s gifts for compression and dark, deadpan wit. Behind it all rest the sinister and violent undertones that discomfit the reader from first page to last.

Unfinished, but a fitting and worthy coda to a storied career.

The last novel from English author Bainbridge, who died in July 2010.

 

Against the chaotic backdrop of 1968 America, a young British woman, Rose, and an angry widower pursue an elusive figure, admired and mythologized by her and murderously despised by him, from East Coast to West, a pursuit that culminates (though it doesn't quite end) at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. on the June night when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Rose has come to the U.S. in search of Dr. Wheeler, who seems (all exposition in this book comes through a glass, darkly) to have been her protector during an awful adolescence. She is met in Baltimore and accompanied on her search—it’s a kind of accompaniment that resembles hostage-holding—by someone she knows only as Washington Harold, an ill-tempered, secretive man whose wife had an affair with Wheeler and then committed suicide. Harold is, as the sometimes savvy and sometimes childishly self-absorbed Rose seems to intuit, using her; he intends to take revenge. Everywhere they go along the way they encounter mayhem and threat—a botched bank robbery in which a gun is held to Rose's head, killings, near-riots, racial animus. Bainbridge died before she could finish her 17th novel, and toward the end, especially, this odd, angular picaresque feels chaotic and choppy. Still, it shows off the author’s gifts for compression and dark, deadpan wit. Behind it all rest the sinister and violent undertones that discomfit the reader from first page to last.

 

Unfinished, but a fitting and worthy coda to a storied career.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60945-056-4
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Europa Editions
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2011




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