Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge

Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge was first published in 1972. I find that Bainbridge books are either hit or miss, and for me this one was definitely a miss.

The tale is narrated by a 13 year old girl who is home from her boarding school for the holidays. She had been sent away from home when her parents found that she had been writing ‘dirty’ things in her notebook. At boarding school she learned of even more dirty things to write about. She is very easily led – by her best friend Harriet. It transpires that Harriet is the one who tells her what to write in her notebook, but of course it is all in the handwriting of the unnamed narrator.

Harriet of course is no friend to the narrator, she’s just a user and as the narrator was at a local private school before she was sent to boarding school she is lonely, which is presumably one of the reasons why she puts up with the ghastly Harriet.

They’re out to get experiences, and write about them in the notebook.  Mr Biggs becomes a target for them, he is in late middle age and is unhappily married, they decide to have some fun, the plan being that he will end up being humiliated, but things go badly wrong,  This is really a horror story, the whole thing gave me the creeps, I didn’t enjoy any of it but I ploughed on to the end anyway, luckily it’s only 152 pages long.

The blurb on the back from The Telegraph says: ‘An extremely original and disconcerting story ….. Miss Bainbridge’s imagination is dark …. her landscapes reek and threaten, and her images smell of corruption.’

Apparently this was Bainbridge’s first novel and it was rejected by several publishers. While I was reading it I was reminded of the Parker/Hulme teenage murderers case in New Zealand which you can read about here, and indeed it transpired that Bainbridge used that case as a basis for this book, Hulme eventually became the author Anne Perry.


2 thoughts on “Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge

  1. I followed your link to the Parker/Hulme murder case and read some of the related articles. I lived in Christchurch when I was visiting the University of Canterbury, but was completely unaware of the murder case.

    I do recall attempting to watch Heavenly Creatures, but don’t recall why I gave up after only a few minutes. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for a film about two troubled teenagers.

    Judging by your reaction, and the Wikipedia entry on the book, Harriet Said is way off my comfort scale.

    • Janusz,
      That murder case was reported in The Guardian at the time, if I’m remembering correctly. It was only fairly recently that I discovered that Anne Perry was one of the girls involved, and it put me off from reading anything by her. This book is definitely not a comfortable one to read, I really disliked being ‘in’ it.

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