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Bainbridge, Beryl

ageing deeds london unexpected

(British, 1934–)

Beryl Bainbridge was born in Liverpool, and began her career there as an actress in a repertory company. Her early novels are often set in the area. Bainbridge's characteristic vein is black comedy; she tells tales of dark deeds and the unexpected with economy and humour. She is a prolific novelist, held in high esteem by both critics and the reading public. Typical of her work is The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), the story of romantic skulduggery in an Italian-owned wine bottling factory, culminating in a works outing which ends in unpremeditated disaster. Injury Time (1977) won a Whitbread award, and combines the ordinariness of a dinner-party with an unexpected violent ending. An Awfully Big Adventure (1989) is related by 16-year-old Stella, an ASM in a Liverpool rep company, and treats of her relationship with an ageing actor, the youthful perspective giving an ironic detachment to the dark deeds that unfold. The Birthday Boys (1991) is a fictionalized account of Scott's expedition to the Antarctic, and Every Man for Himself (1996) describes the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic. Both convey deep empathy for the male characters and are powerfully atmospheric. Master Georgie (1998, Booker shortlisted) is a vivid, concise, intense novella about a photographer/surgeon who goes to offer his services during the Crimean war, accompanied by his adoring adopted sister, his fire-eating photographer's assistant, and a lapsed geologist. According to Queeney (2001) is, like Birthday Boys, a fictionalization of the life of a real character. This time the setting is not Scott's Antarctic but mid-eighteenth-century London, in which the ageing, ailing Dr Johnson develops an odd, dependent and (unbeknown to the doting Boswell) rather ambiguous friendship with the young Hester ‘Queeney’ Thrale. Bainbridge's portrayal of Georgian London is typically vivid and detailed, and the cantankerous Johnson one of her most lifelike characters.

Mavis Cheek, Alice Thomas Ellis, Bernice Rubens  SA

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