Two Naughty Schoolgirls…

For my first read for BBRW, I thought – start at the beginning…

Harriet Said was Beryl’s first  work written in the late 1950s.  However it ended up as her third published novel, as its darkness struggled to find a publisher initially.  It is the story of two teenaged schoolgirls and what they got up to one summer holiday…

The two girls are an odd pairing.  Our narrator, who remains unnamed, is the thirteen year old ‘stout’ follower of Harriet. A boarder, she longs for the school holidays and being able to see her friend again back on the Lancashire coast.  She looks up to Harriet who is slightly older than her; indeed she loves her in a schoolgirl way, and will do anything for her.  Harriet, you sense right from the beginning, is a wicked girl – always scheming, endlessly nosey about their neighbours.

You know that something has happened, right from the first pages of the book…

Harriet said: ‘No you don’t, you keep walking.’ I wanted to turn round and look back at the dark house but she tugged at my arm fiercely. We walked over the field hand in hand as if we were little girls.

After the short opening chapter, the story flashes back to the start of the summer. The girls latch onto a man, Mr Biggs, that they see out and about, getting some time alone from his wife.  He seems flattered by the girls’ attention, and the narrator begins to have rather a crush on him.  Together, they dream up a scheme to humiliate him and his wife, but like all ill-conceived plans, it goes dreadfully wrong.

Bainbridge’s style of dropping the reader straight into the action, without much scene-setting is evident right from the off.  This always gives an initial challenge in getting to grips with the characters, but pays off dividends in getting into the story quickly, and the lack of padding gives space for some lovely detail.

It is hinted that the girls, while still under-age, are no strangers to being a tease, one reason why the narrator was shipped off to boarding school.  Their parents though, appear to have no idea what they are getting up to. The narrator’s mother is more concerned with her younger sister; Harriet’s folks are nowhere to be seen.  The freedom the girls have to be out and about is shocking to us these days, but they didn’t have TV of course.

Adolescent fantasies take on an air of horror, as the  girls’ grooming in reverse takes its course. This is a dark debut indeed and doesn’t exhibit the black sense of humour that Bainbridge’s novels later developed, but it is a powerful story that hints of greatness to come. (8/10)

According to Wikipedia, the book is based upon a notorious murder case which happened in 1954 in New Zealand. The Parker-Hulme case was also the basis of the film Heavenly Creatures.



16 thoughts on “Two Naughty Schoolgirls…

  1. This was the second Bainbridge that I read after Sweet William, (I had the edition with the cover on the far right of your line-up) and I have to admit that it could well have been the reason why I haven’t read any others in the past twenty-odd years!
    I’m afraid that I found it far too dark for my tastes then and I’m not entirely sure that I would like it any more now which is why I am sticking to her more historical novels for the readalong – starting today with Master Georgie.

    Hope that your daughter has a lovely time in France (junior daughter and I are also in French mode but more because she has her A-Level exam tomorrow so any spare time after work is spent testing her on vocab which is a bit relentless but at least it’s better than having to help with Sociology revision! And I have learned some very useful new words!) and that you catch up with your sleep soon.

    • Thanks Liz. Harriet Said was extremely dark, and doesn’t feature her wicked humour much at all. I’ve only read Every Man For Himself of her later novels – hoping to fit another in later this week – as I will get more time for reading with my daughter in France!

  2. Gosh, that does sound dark! Your line at the bottom does rather lead me to guess what the tragic event might be(!) I think I’ll stick with the darkly humorous ones at the moment… on Sweet William today; review of Injury Time appearing tomorrow morning.

    • We’re choosing the same ones Simon. My Sweet William review will be up tomorrow too, and I’ve just started Injury Time – but which after that? 🙂

  3. I read The Dressmaker this morning and that surprised me with a much darker ending than I was expecting and it too does the whole ‘boom, the story is already well underway, keep up reader, keep up!’ thing at the beginning. I can see I am going to be kept on my toes this week. 🙂

    • You’ve got it in one – she nearly always throws you in at the deep end. Re-reading my review of The Bottle Factory Outing from a few months ago, I now see I’ve mixed up the names of the two girls as it was quite confusing at the beginning!

  4. I can’t decide from what you and Harriet say whether I would love this or hate it! I’m reading An Awfully Big Adventure, which is perhaps visiting some of the same ideas – I can see that it’s not going to end happily, as it also pitches you in at the deep end. Wonderful writing – I haven’t read much of her work, and I think that’s going to have to change.

    • This one was very dark and did make you feel a bit grubby for reading it! At least AABA has pompous and luvvy theatrical types and some humour amongst all the drama – glad you’re enjoying it.

  5. Harriet Said sounds a little too dark for my taste I’m afraid. I’ve just read According to Queenie (because of Johnson) and I’ll post it tomorrow. And now I’m reading An Awfully Big Adventure. I’ve not read her before.

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  8. I am so sad that I missed your Bainbridge Reading Week! What rotten timing, as I ‘accidently’ picked up Harriet Said this week and have just posted my review on it this morning. What a marvelous book, if that word can be used to describe something so dark. I was mesmerized by her writing, “dropping us into the action” as you said with the two, very naughty, girls. Off to add your review to mine.

    • I’m so glad you could join in, in the end. Off to read your review now, and I shall add your link to my Beryl page at the top.

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