Dame Beryl Bainbridge is regarded as one of the greatest and most prolific British novelists of her generation. Consistently praised by critics, she was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize five times, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the W. H. Smith Literary Award, and twice won the Whitbread Award for Novel of the Year. She was born in Liverpool in 1932 and died in London in 2010.
Works Read to Date
The Bottle Factory Outing
According to Queenie
Sweet William 1976
An Awfully Big Adventure 1989
Birthday Boys 1991
Beryl Bainbridge is highly emphatic, able to move from the consciousness of teenage girls, to an imagined young Adolf Hitler on a holiday in England, to blue collar women working in a bottle factory to Samuel Johnson and the Thrales in late 18th century London.
About half of Bainbridge's seventeen novels draw on her own life experiences in the theater and her at times tumultuous personal life. The rest are historical works carefully researched and very well imagined. Back in Bainbridge's day research meant more than a quick Google search, you actually had to go to a library, get books and read them.
Birthday Boys tells the story of Robert Scott's 1913 expedition to Antartica. There are five narrators, each giving us a different look at the expedition. There is Petty Officer Tiff Evans, the medical officer Doctor Edward Wilson, Lt. Harry Bower, the ships captain Lawrence Oliver and the leader Robert Scott. The objective of the expedition is to be the first group of explorers to reach the South Pole. Unfortunately, a Norwegian team beats them by a month.
Each of the narrators has their own perspective on the trip. One hopes his accumulated pay on return will be enough to set up pub in his home town, another worries about how the long trio, up to three years, will impact his marriage, the ship Captain has pecuniary concerns and of course Robert Scott dreams of glory for England and himself.
I thought the most enthralling parts of Birthday Boys was in the account of the triip across the ice. Bainbridge does just a wonderful job describing the terrifying beauty of the landscape and the horrific hardships of the trip. The men remain very British, very civilized as death seems to close upon them.
Birthday Boys is a very powerful work of empathy and imagination.
I am now reading her Injury Time.
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The Beryl Bainbridge books are only being offered for sale in the USA