Beryl Bainbridge Biography
(1934– ), A Weekend With Claude, Another Part of the Wood, Harriet Said, The Dressmaker
British novelist, born in Liverpool and educated at the Merchant Taylor's School. She began her career as an actress in a Liverpool repertory company. Her first novel, A Weekend With Claude (1967), written in her distinctive laconic style, is a blackly comic account of a weekend in the country which ends with the accidental shooting of one of the protagonists. Her other novels include Another Part of the Wood (1968); Harriet Said (1972), in which the sexual experiment conducted by two schoolgirls goes disastrously wrong; The Dressmaker (1973), a novel set in wartime Liverpool concerning the relationships between a dejected 17-year-old girl and her two aunts; The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), which describes the macabre and comic events surrounding a small firm's annual outing; Sweet William (1975), about a compulsive philanderer; Young Adolf (1978), a comic exploration of a visit to Liverpool made by the 16-year-old Hitler during the 1900s; and Winter Garden (1980). A recurring theme in her work is the bizarre or unpredictable nature of real life; the most banal events are given a surreal edge and there is a pervasive sense, in her comic descriptions, of the absurdity underlying human behaviour. This is most clearly seen in her use of dialogue, which appears at first to mimic the vocabulary and cadences of real speech, but which in fact is as far from naturalism as her plots, many of which hinge on fantastic or macabre circumstances. Murder and accidental death often feature as the catalyst in an otherwise innocuous series of events. Injury Time (1977; Whitbread Award, 1978), for example, begins with a dinner party and ends with kidnapping and violence; Watson's Apology (1984) investigates the circumstances surrounding a Victorian schoolmaster's murder of his wife; and An Awfully Big Adventure (1989) deals with adultery, homosexuality, incest, and suicide, as perceived by its 16-year-old narrator, Stella, an ASM in a Liverpool repertory company. Infatuated with Meredith, the theatre manager, who is having an affair with another man, Stella allows herself to be drawn into a relationship with an ageing actor, O'Hara, for whom the affair has terrible consequences. In this, as in much of Bainbridge's fiction, events are seen from the point of view of a naïve, but not necessarily innocent, protagonist, a technique which gives the narrative an ironic dimension characteristic of her work as a whole.