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.


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.

Bookish Links to the Guardian

There are quite a few interesting bookish articles in this Saturday’s Guardian.

You might be interested in reading le Carre on le Carre from the Weekend section. I think we have all of his books but I have yet to read any of them.

If you’re a fan of Val McDermid you can read an article by her here.

There’s an article on Ann Patchett here.

There’s an article about a biography of Beryl Bainbridge here.

There’s an article on a book about Monet’s waterlily paintings, read it here if you’re interested.

I have a feeling that most bookish people are inclined to be shy, as I am, so if that describes you too you might like to read this article – Shrinking Violets: A Field Guide to Shyness by Joe Moran.

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge was first published in 1996. Of course the setting is The Titanic and that did put me off a wee bit but I decided to buy it anyway because I like Bainbridge’s writing. I’m the opposite of those many people who are obsessed with all things Titanic. This book won the Whitbread Novel of the Year award.

The book is split up into four sections, one section for each day of the voyage, and it’s narrated by a 22 year old man named Morgan. He has trained as a draughtsman and knows more about the ship than most of the other seafarers. Obviously since he is telling the tale the reader knows from the beginning that he survived the disaster.

Morgan comes from a wealthy family with his uncle being the owner of the bank J.P. Morgan, but he’s an orphan and is somewhat unsure of his place in society. On board he mixes with all sorts of people from the very wealthy to people who have virtually nothing but the clothes they have on their back.

He’s an ideal narrator as it means that the reader gets to know a variety of unusual characters and the reasons for them being on the voyage. I ended up enjoying this one although not as much as An Awfully Big Adventure, which was the previous book by Bainbridge which I read.

Was the sinking of The Titanic the worst ever sea disaster? No, it doesn’t come close, you can read about some others here.

I can understand why people are so interested in the disaster but at the same time it annoys me as it’s the fact that there were so many wealthy and titled people on board with their treasures which attracts them. It’s all very snobby.

I’ve always been surprised that Harland and Wolff, the shipyard which built the Titanic continued in business. I wonder if something like that happened nowadays if the shipyard would survive. I really doubt it somehow, they would be sued out of existence, after all the American airline Pan-Am didn’t survive the Lockerbie bombing. The White Star Line continued in business until 1934 when it merged with Cunard Line. Not that that has anything to do with the book, just my mind going on a wander as usual.

Anyway back to the book, Every Man for Himself is a good read and I’ll be reading more by Bainbridge in the future.

Books and a dental mishap

Last night I fancied a treat so I unwrapped a creme egg, my first of the season. I actually paused before chomping into it because that first bite is always a bit scary as the chocolate is so thick at the top. The worst happened I’m afraid and a front capped tooth sheered off, so I had an unexpected trip to my dentist in Glenrothes today to begin to get it all sorted out. I’m now exactly like that girl in the advert which warns you to take care of your teeth – or else!

Anyway, after the dentist I had a look around the town and went into The Works, more in hope than expectation really because their choice of books has been dire the last year or so, but I was in luck. They were having a stock liquidation sale and they had quite a lot of books at the princely sum of £1 each and amazingly there were four that were worth buying. So I bought:

The Land of Green Ginger by Winifred Holtby. I read and enjoyed South Riding years ago and I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages.

Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard
. Apparently this one was on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour but I missed it. I like her writing, sadly she died just a week or so ago, but I suppose she had a good innings – as THEY say.

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge
. I’ve enjoyed quite a few of her books, this one is yet another Titanic setting which did put me off a bit because I think that that subject has been overdone in the past but I’m sure I’ll enjoy this, if that’s the word in the circumstances.

And lastly, Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White. I’ve never heard of this author before but it’s vintage crime and apparently this book inspired the classic film The Spiral Staircase. I thought that would have been inspired by the Mignon Eberhart book of the same title, but I bow to their superior knowledge!

Crazily, on the way home I dropped into the museum shop as it’s a good place to get unusual cards and I made the mistake of hopping into the library next door, which due to the refurbishment is now only one step away. I couldn’t resist the new books shelves and ended up borrowing:

The Doll – short stories by Daphne du Maurier
Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford
The Comforters by Muriel Spark
Summer by Edith Wharton

I’m trying to read my way through everything by du Maurier. I think it was Peggy who mentioned Elisabeth Gifford, but I haven’t read anything by her yet. The Muriel Spark book will count towards the Read Scotland 2014 challenge and I’m also trying to read my way through everything by Wharton, so that was a great haul of shiny new books. Now I just need the time to read them all!

You might want to have a listen to Pam Ayres reciting her poem – I wish I’d Looked After My Teeth. – It’s exactly how I feel although of course I don’t have her rural English accent. But ‘tak tent’ (pay attention) as we say or used to say in Scotland, and if I ever eat another creme egg I’m thinking that I might just bash it on the head with my rolling pin, to soften it up first. If you have a better idea of how to go about eating one safely, let me know!

Death at the Dolphin by Ngaio Marsh

Death at the Dolphin

This book is titled Killer Dolphin in the US and was first published in 1967, I bought it in a second-hand bookshop in Worcester and it cost me all of £1 – not bad when you consider that the original 1967 price was 18s. 0d. Remember, there were 20 shillings in each pound sterling.

Anyway, I haven’t read anything by Ngaio Marsh for years, so long that I couldn’t even tell you what I have read, but I seem to remember that they were just a teeny wee bit racist in language, always a bit off putting even when books were written in the 1930s. However by 1967 her language seemed to have improved and I must say that I really did enjoy this one, despite it having quite a modern setting, the 1930s are really my favourite vintage crime era.

Peregrine Jay is a young playwright living in London and having a reasonably successful career but when he sees a derelict theatre languishing unloved near his flat, he is determined to bring it back to life. The Dolphin Theatre is his dream project and with the help of Mr Conducis, a rich businessman, the theatre reopens. Then there’s a murder which is investigated by Inspector Alleyn of Scotland Yard and his sidekick ‘Bre’r’ Fox. The whole theatre company is under suspicion.

If you like reading books with a theatre company setting then you’ll probably enjoy this one. Other books with a theatrical setting which I’ve enjoyed are :

The Good Companions by J.B. Priestley

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

School for Love cover

This is one of the books which I pulled out from that scary mountain of books on the left-hand side of the door at Voltaire and Rousseau, it was absolutely pristine (still is) and cost me all of £1. I bought it because of the Peter Pan connotations and Beryl Bainbridge had just been in the news because of her recent death, I hadn’t read anything by her for years. It was first published in 1989.

It’s set in Liverpool in 1950 and Stella has decided not to stay on at school. Her Uncle Vernon manages to get her a job as assistant stage manager at a local theatre. This involves being a general dogs-body to the company of actors and eventually getting small acting parts herself.

Stella’s character is an unusual combination of naivety and cheek, she gets on well in the theatre but has a crush on Meredith, the director who has converted to Catholicism, apparently because he’s after redemption. Which is just what we all said when Tony Blair did the same thing!

During rehearsals for Peter Pan disaster strikes and Meredith has to find someone else to play the dual part of Mr Darling and Captain Hook. The well known actor P.L.O’Hara rides to the rescue on his motorbike.

There’s quite a lot of tragedy one way or another in this book but it’s never depressing, partly I think because Beryl Bainbridge is so matter of fact about it.

Whilst reading it I thought to myself that it was quite similar to J.B. Priestley’s The Good Companions and I had planned to say that if you enjoyed that one you would probably like this. Then I read the back blurbs and The Sunday Times said:

Imagine Priestley’s The Good Companions as written by Gogol and you will have some idea of the mixture of waggish humour and sordid pathos in Bainbridge’s novel.

The book was made into a film starring Alan Rickman.

So there you have it, if you haven’t read anything by Bainbridge before, you might want to check her out to see if she’s your cup of tea.