I have read a couple of Beryl Bainbridge novels, many years ago, but cannot remember them vividly enough to review. This may be something for me to revisit, at some point in the not too distant future.
However, following the announcement of her death yesterday, it seemed appropriate to give her a mention, as she has been widely acclaimed as one of the huge doyennes of literature.
She was born in Liverpool, where many of her works are set, although she lived much of her life and ended her days, living in London.
Her family life was mostly one of conflict; in a childhood marred by continually warring parents, whose lives were an unending battle with class distinction; and later with a husabnd who was unfaithful to her, leaving her a single mother to raise three children alone.
During her long career, she was, at times; a theatre critic, screenplay author, actress, newspaper columnist and writer of several television plays.
Although nominated five times for the Booker Prize, she was never successful, although she did win a whole string of other literary awards. She was said to be honoured, when, in 2000, she was awarded a DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire), by The Queen.
Her first and, some say, her most controversial novel, was ‘Harriet Said’, which was written in 1958, but remained unpublished until 1972, some four years after her third novel was published.
It had been rejected by publishers as being, too ‘dark’, with a gruesome plot and repulsive characters.
In an interview Dame Beryl commented that, in her earlier novels, she would take newspaper stories, put her own family members in amongst the action and weave a whole new story. ‘Harriet Said’, was such a story, being inspired by newspaper accounts of a real-life murder case, involving two young girls, in New Zealand.
Synopsis: ‘Harriet Said’
Two schoolgirls spend their holidays in a rundown Northern resort. The younger one develops a morbid interest in an unhappily married, middle-aged man. She and her friend Harriet begin a plot to humiliate him. But their fantasy merges into reality, with shocking and unexpected results.
Her last, just completed novel is ‘The Girl In The Polka Dot Dress’, which, as of now, is not due for release until late 2011
Synopsis: ‘The Girl In The Polka Dot Dress’
During the investigation in 1968 into the assassination of Robert Kennedy, several witnesses recalled seeing a girl in a polka dot dress in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. She was never found. THE GIRL IN THE POLKA DOT DRESS is a vintage Bainbridge tale of murder and retribution, underpinned by Bainbridge’s trademark and uniquely dark comedy. Aged twelve, Rose was responsible for a terrible act. It was witnessed by Dr Wheeler – who has kept silent for seven years – before his departure for America. In London Rose meets another American, Harold, who also knows Wheeler and has his own reasons for wanting to find him – his wife had an affair with him and committed suicide when it ended. Harold and Rose travel across America in pursuit of the sinister Dr Wheeler, before ending up at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the night of Robert Kennedy’s fateful press conference. Rose is wearing her favourite – polka dot – dress.
She will be sadly missed, by the whole spectrum of the literary world.