Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

 Master George cover

Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge was shortlisted for the Booker prize, and that is printed on the cover, it was published in 1998. I read it because it actually won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1998, but that is not mentioned on the cover of the book, which I think is a real shame especially considering it is the oldest literary prize in Britain, but of course it’s a Scottish prize, based in Edinburgh University, and you know how London-centric everything seems to be nowadays.

You never know what you’re going to get with Beryl Bainbridge, but this one turned out to be historical fiction, set before and during the Crimean War. I enjoyed it but I think that I made a mistake in reading it at bedtime, as it deserved and needed concentration. The last parts of the book are pretty ghastly as you would expect from a brutal war setting, but the earlier parts of the book are about Georgie, a young man interested in photography, and some of the people who make up his family household.

George Hardy eventually becomes a surgeon and some of his household accompany him to the war. They all have close relationships with him and all helped him hide a secret from his mother, which creates a bond between them. Myrtle is his adoptive sister and she adores him, hero worships him, Pompey was picked up off the streets and now assists him with his photography and Dr Potter, is the family doctor who has an interest in geology and the new sciences.

The blurb on the back say:

‘A novella-sized miracle of passion and war’ Ruth Rendell

‘It is hard to think of anyone now writing who understand the human heart as Beryl Bainbridge does.’ The Times

It’s definitely worth reading, and out of interest I looked up what did win the Booker Prize in 1998 and it was Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, which I haven’t read, so I can’t compare it.

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