Getting to know Beryl better…

Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes

I will happily go on record to say that Beryl Bainbridge is my favourite author. Earlier this year, I hosted a reading week celebrating her work; you can see my record of that week and a bibliography of Beryl books and reviews on my Reading Beryl page. Through searching through reviews, obituaries, TV clips etc to complement and enliven the reading of her books – I felt I had got to know her quite well. Not well enough it seems!

When I was able to get my hands on this new biography, it went straight to the top of my TBR pile, temporarily relegating Dorothy Dunnett!

beryl biogI knew she painted, but I had no idea how good she was. This biography of Beryl, which happens to be the first to be published after her death in 2010, comes from art publishers Thames & Hudson – and it anchors itself primarily in her art, although her literature is closely interlinked. Although we know Beryl as a writer first and foremost, she always painted, she sold paintings between novels, and when she periodically suffered from writer’s block, she was able to work through it by painting.

The author was a friend of Beryl’s from the early 1960s onwards; they started off as neighbours in Camden after Beryl had moved down from Liverpool, bonding over their young families. Hughes herself is a lecturer and a writer, married to an artist, so is ideally placed to write about her friend. The introduction is also written by a friend – Brendan King, who was Beryl’s editor for twenty years, and who pieced together Beryl’s final novel The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress which was left unfinished when she died.

Beryl always rejected the label of being eccentric; I’m not so sure, but she is certainly idiosyncratic – having her own consistent style which suffuses her life, and thus her art and her books. Her pictures and her novels are heavily influenced by events from her own life, and often include other subjects that fascinated her like Napoleon, pictured dancing on the cover of this book. Her paintings are delicate, many done with and ink and smudges of colour, yet their subjects are earthy. Many of the figures within are nude and Rubenesque; expressions of her subconscious?, yet she always grounds them with an object placed in the frame – a plant … or her favourite samovar even. The figures tend to have an ethereal feel, and many have reminiscent of Modigliani’s elongated faces – he was a painter Beryl admired.

Hughes writes about Beryl’s views on art…

She attended the openings of my husband’s exhibitions because he was a friend. On one occasion she even wrote a short piece for the invitation to one of this exhibitions (in July 1987), which gives a brief personal doctrine of painting: ‘What one wants from art is a personal statement, a successful arrangement of colour and shape and a sense of place.’

The picture below is a family group of the author and her family on the arrival of a new sibling, was painted in 1970, the angel was added later when Hughes had a fourth daughter.

Beryl Bainbridge's portrait of Psiche Hughes' family and the arrival of a new sibling 1970Later on, Beryl took to painting pictures based on the subjects of her historical novels, “after its completion, as if to exorcize the memory of the effort she had spent in the writing.” Hughes suggests.  The pictures included for her novels, The Birthday Boys, and Every man for himself (based on the events of Scott’s journey to the Antarctic and the sinking of the Titanic respectively), are particularly evocative – the colours of the sun on the snow, and the dark night as the ship sinks create real atmosphere.

Supplementing Hughes’s text are 108 illustrations – many in colour of Beryl’s paintings, but also photographs and book covers. The whole book is produced on high quality cream paper, with a ribbon bookmark, making it a pleasure to read.

The triple approach to Beryl’s life – artist, writer and friend really worked, and I now feel I know her a lot better. This is a lovely book. (10/10)

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I was lucky enough to receive a review copy through Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes. Pub Oct 2012 by Thames & Hudson. Hardback, 208 pages.

Incoming Beryl …

Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes

I am inordinately excited to have been able to get my mitts on this rather different biography of my favourite author, the first full biography since Beryl’s death. Thanks to my lovely neighbours who rescued it from the Amazon delivery man and depot hell this morning, so I could share it with you.

The lovely thing is that Beryl turns out to have been a brilliant artist as you can see from the cover below, and made money from her painting when writing couldn’t provide it.

This biography comes from art publishers Thames & Hudson, and is beautifully produced on quality paper with over 100 illustrations in colour and b/w including many photos of Beryl throughout her career.

Beryl and Italian-born Psiche met in the early 1960s, they were neighbours in London and their friendship lasted until Beryl’s death in 2010.

I am really looking forward to reading this book and savouring Beryl’s art. Expect a full review soon!

If you want to find out more about Beryl, why not check out my Reading Beryl page, which contains all the reviews and links from Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, which I hosted back in June.

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I received a review copy via Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes, pub Oct 2012 by Thames & Hudson, Hardback, 205 pages.

Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week – Review Round-up

Thank you again to everyone who has joined in Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week. I said I’d do a full round up – so here are all the links so far. If I’ve missed you out, please leave a link in the comments and I’ll add you in. As Simon did for his Review Round-up for Muriel Spark Reading Week back in April, I’ve listed Beryl’s books chronologically(ish) — ie in publication order.  As you can see, there’s a few in the middle none of us have got to so far, so that’s where my ongoing reading will continue I think…

These links will also get transferred into my new Reading Beryl page on the tab above.

Harriet Said… (1972) – Seamus at Vapour Trails, Harriet Devine, Gaskella
The Dressmaker (US: The secret glass) (1973) – Alex in Leeds
The Bottle Factory Outing (1974) – Ali at Heavenali, Skiourophile, Sophia at Page Plucker, Gaskella from my archive,
Sweet William (1975) – Simon T at Stuck in a book, Gaskella
A Quiet Life (1976) – Margaret at Books Please, Gaskella
Injury Time (1977) – Simon T at Stuck in a book, Stu at Winston’s Dad, Gaskella
Young Adolf (1978)
Another Part of the Wood (revised) (1979)
Winter Garden (1980)
A Weekend with Claude (revised) (1981)
Watson’s Apology (1984)
Mum and Mr Armitage (short stories) (1985)
Filthy Lucre (juvenalia from 1946) (1986) – Simon S from Savidge Reads
An Awfully Big Adventure (1989) – Harriet Devine, David H at Follow the Thread, Geranium Cat, Chris at The Book Trunk
The Birthday Boys (1991) – Gaskella from my archive,
Collected Stories (short stories) (1994)
Every Man For Himself (1996) – Alex in Leeds, Harriet Devine, Sophia at Page Plucker
Master Georgie (1998) – Col at The Only Way Is Reading, Sophia at Page Plucker
According to Queeney (2001) – Chris at The Book Trunk, Harriet Devine
The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress (2011)

Non-Fiction:
English Journey or The Road to Milton Keynes (1984) – Alex in Leeds (and see her other link below).
Forever England: North and South (1987)
Something Happened Yesterday (1993) – Simon T at Stuck in a Book
Front Row: Evenings at the Theatre (2005) – Gaskella

Other Beryl posts and links you must see:

A Polka-Dot Giveaway

It’s Sunday tea-time in the UK, and we’re coming to the end of Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week.  Thank you to everyone who’s taken part by reading, posting, reviewing, commenting and just popping by.

I’ve found all the books of hers that I’ve read to be brilliantly written, wickedly subversive and often very funny, each one different yet reassuringly the same – in that she has a consistent style of writing, which once it gels with you won’t let you go.  I’ve also found I’ve become rather fond of her – she’s Beryl to me now, not Bainbridge any more.

I realise that some of you may still be reading with a write-up to follow.  Keep them coming and I will do a review round-up with all the links in one place later in the week.  

I will also be pasting all the links in my new tab at the top of the page – Reading Beryl, so there’ll be an easy to retrieve record of the week and I intend to keep reading the rest of her books as an on-going project.  If you have been inspired to read more, do comment on the page and leave your link.

And for anyone who hasn’t read enough about Beryl, here’s a link to her interview in the Paris Review from 2000.

* * *  However I’d like to end the week with a giveaway! * * *

Beryl’s last novel The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress will finally be published in paperback at the beginning of July.  I’m offering three copies of the book (and will send them to anywhere that the Book Depository sends to).  I’ll make the draw next Friday.

Just leave a comment – and tell me your favourite Bainbridge novel, moment from this week, or anything else Beryl-related.

Good luck!

Nights at the Theatre

Front Row: Evenings at the Theatre by Beryl Bainbridge

From  1992 until 2002, Beryl was the theatre reviewer for The Oldie magazine, and  her reviews have been collected in this volume. Collected columns like these can easily date, however Beryl prefaces each review in her idiosyncratic style with comment about what she’d been doing, or thoughts about arriving at the theatre. She then follows that with some serious research about the play or production in question before brief comments about what she saw.

In the introduction she gives us some autobiographical notes about her own short stage career, which was character-forming, and provided the inspiration for her novel An awfully big adventure. She also confesses, that coming from the theatrical tradition herself, she finds it impossible to really criticise anyone – thus she ends up mostly praising or not saying much at all!

Luckily for me, the book coincides with the height of my London theatre-going and I actually saw many of the same productions, so could compare and contrast.

The volume starts off with Alan Bennett’s wonderful adaptation of The Wind in the Willows at the National Theatre (1992).  Although she acknowledges Bennett’s production  has ‘a lot of sunshine’, she wishes the Wild Woods could have been darker (like those in her own novels, perhaps).

She also dislikes the lack of curtains, proscenium arches, footlights and the dimming of the lights that you get in modern theatres.  She says: “I was forced to smile throughout, facial muscles stuck in a grimace owing to the brightness of the auditorium.”   This never occurred to me – I was transfixed throughout the whole production!.

Moving on to Macbeth by the RSC at the Barbican in 1994.  It starred Derek Jacobi (“excellent”) and Cheryl Campbell (“whimpered too pathetically”), I agree. Like me, she liked parts of the production, and hated others, it lacked “visual magic and theatricality” – the set was particularly awful. I also remember Jacobi’s fan-club occupying the front row and throwing flowers at the end – I read elsewhere that some of them went to every performance!

When she talks about Rodney Ackland’s 1952 play Absolute Hell, (National Theatre, 1995) – she says that much of it “will be lost on those still in the bloom of youth,”. It’s set in a Soho club run by Christine (Judi Dench), and features a young writer (Greg Hicks) who is overcome by rejection.  Beryl loved this play; I’m afraid I remember it mostly for Dench being rather shouty, and Dot Cotton from Eastenders (June Brown) having a part. She was right – it was lost on me.  We are in agreement though about Trevor Nunn’s 1998 NT production of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People with Ian McKellen in superb form.

I’ve only selected a few of the actual productions that I’ve seen too to comment on, but Beryl’s reviews cover a wide range of shows at a wide range of theatres, although mostly, but not always, in the West End. From pantomimes (she adores Peter Pan, natch), to musicals like the 1990s Oliver! revival and Les Miserables, popular plays like The Woman in Black as well as the literary heavyweights – all are given the same treatment.

The last word on her reviews though goes to her review of her own play of An Awfully Big Adventure at the Liverpool Playhouse in 1992. It starred her daughter, Rudi Davies, as Stella (based on Beryl herself).  She ends the review with a tongue in cheek critical sentence or two: “Too much of the first act is given over to exposition. There must be a better way of doing it. Given time, the author may write a better play.”

If I hadn’t been familiar with the era and actors, I may not have enjoyed these reviews quite so much – but they hit the spot for me, and brought a real touch of nostalgia actually. (8/10)

“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way”

A Quiet Lifeby Beryl Bainbridge

Alan sits in a café waiting for his sister Madge, whom he hasn’t seen for fifteen years – there to discuss their late mother’s effects. Both are now in their forties, and they’re still as different as chalk and cheese.

Rewind twenty-five years. It’s the 1950s; petrol is still rationed, the spectre of the war still looms large for there are German POWs stationed nearby.

We meet a family – at war – with itself.  Our guide is Alan, aged seventeen, the quiet and responsible one who worries about everything, but especially Madge.  Madge, two years younger, manages to get away with everything.  She’s Alan’s complete opposite; an extrovert who loves life, and an expert manipulator of her parents.

Alan suffers silently, and lusts quietly after Janet in the church choir.  Madge, meanwhile, has been spotted cavorting in the dunes with a German POW, and Alan doesn’t know what to do.  One suspects he is jealous of Madge’s emotional development – she’s fast becoming a young woman, whereas although older, he is still to get past first base, so to speak.

The parents:  When Mother married Father, he was well off, they had a house with a maid.  She had been to a Belgian finishing school.  The war saw to all that – no they are all crammed into a small house, not much more than a two-up, two-down, with all the remaining furniture. There’s no space to move, especially as the front room is kept for visitors only.  Father, meanwhile, spends a lot of time with his sister, Alan’s Auntie Nora, when he’s not out on business – we never find out what he actually does, but the black market is hinted at. They’re not happy at all, they barely speak these days, both caught up in their own misery; the scene is set for a claustrophobic drama.

Madge’s behaviour is causing problems, and beginning to get noticed:

‘You’re running wild,’ he muttered. ‘It’s not normal.’ He regretted instantly his choice of words. He thought she would launch into some drivel about normality being relative. For once she kept silent. Encouraged, he said: ‘Don’t you see what friction you cause in the house? They’re worried sick over you.’
‘It’s not me, Alan,’ she said. ‘It’d be all the same if I stayed in. It’s money … and that solicitor.’
He didn’t seem to grasp that it was the trouble she caused him personally that was his main concern. He was long past  marshalling the reasons for his parents’ behaviour – it would be like emptying a cupful of ants into a butterfly net for safe-keeping. All he wanted was for Madge to stay home at night, so he needn’t return to find his father jumping up and down, demented, at the kerb.

Having read her debut,  Harriet Said, this novel is recognisable as a development of that earlier one, but without the wicked plan of the two schoolgirls – Madge’s only aim is to find love. Bearing in mind the horror of Harriet Said, and coming the year after Sweet William, which was an out and out comedy, A Quiet Life seems very pedestrian in its targets – a kitchen sink drama of class war and depression. Beryl’s depiction of the war-torn landscape is also depressing:

In the pockets of darkness lay the bomb-sites, rubble overgrown with tall and multiplying weeds; the wind blew constantly from the river, scattering the dust and the seeds across the demolished city.

Everything seems grey, and for me, although Bainbridge’s writing is as sharp as ever, this novel fell flat.  There are no big twists or revelations, although each character has much to hide.  They’re all hanging on, and we’re spectators watching, waiting for them to fall.  In my bibliography post, before having read the book, I used a quote from the lyric to the Pink Floyd song Brain Damage“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way” and that is so apt!

The other thing I missed in this novel was some of Bainbridge’s wicked humour for the touches were few and far between. More would have mitigated the unrelenting gloom, but also may have diluted the tension. One of the funniest moments was actually on the first page where Madge writes to Alan “suggesting that if they were going to put Mother in the same grave as Father it might be a waste of time to carve ‘Rest in Peace’ on the tombstone.”

In summary, not my favourite Bainbridge, and not a good one to start with, but definitely worth reading for completists. (7/10)

I shall leave you with Pink Floyd – live from 1994 …

Dinner Parties – A Risky Business!

Injury Time by Beryl Bainbridge

Dinner parties… Love ‘em, loathe ‘em – but from the mid 1970s to perhaps as far as the late 1990s they were a symbol of the middle classes. The kitchen-sink drama moved into the Dining Room. Acceptance of your position in the hierarchy by giving dinner parties was soon replaced by competitive hosting – the archetypal example of which is Beverley in Abigail’s Party (as Simon T has already mentioned in his review of this book).  We tend towards more informality these days, which is a relief to me, but somewhere people are still probably having dinner parties and practising oneupmanship today!…

Bainbridge’s 1977 novel, from the middle of her output, Injury Time is at heart, a tale of adultery and an exquisitely ghastly comedy of manners.  It is also, to use a footballing phrase that matches its title, a game of two halves – both of which go into injury time.

The first half kicks off with us meeting Edward and Binny, he a moderately successful accountant and she, his mistress.  Binny is not a typical mistress though,  she has three children for a start, and lives in a rather run-down area of North London.  Edward is stuck in a stifling marriage with Helen, he’s plump and grows roses. They make an odd pair.

In the beginning he had fallen in love with her because she advised him they must live each day as if it were their last: bearing in mind that any moment the final whistle could blow, it was pointless to spoil the time they had left with the making of impossible demands. ‘You don’t want to leave your wife,’ she’d said. ‘And I don’t want you to.’ But as the months passed and she made various disparaging remarks about married men and their duplicity, it occurred to him that possibly this was precisely what she required of him. It made him very uncomfortable.

However, Edward does give in to her request to meet some of his colleagues, and chooses Simpson and his wife to invite to a dinner party at Binny’s house.

It’s the day of the meal, and Binny needs to get ready, and she’s having problems getting rid of the children, bolshy teen Lucy, and little Alison, who thinks she’s a dog.

Binny could feel a pulse beating in her throat. She burned with fury. No wonder she never put on an ounce of weight. The daily aggravation the children caused her was probably comparable to a five-mile run or an hour with the skipping rope

Eventually the children are sorted out and dispatched to friends and neighbours. Edward arrives followed by Simpson and his wife Muriel who seems nice, although proper, and rather an unknown quantity.  Simpson, of course, has a mistress too, and keeps trying to think of an excuse to pop out to the phone box.

One day, thought Edward gloomily, Simpson was going to be caught out. They were all going to be caught out – Simpson, himself, those other foolish men drinking in public houses, jingling the loose change in their pockets and boasting of affairs. It was astonishing how fashionable it was to be unfaithful.

So far, the evening’s going fairly well, but things get interrupted by Binny’s friend Alma who turns up drunk, and promptly throws up all over the place. End of the first half.

As you might guess from the array of covers above, there is something else to come in the second half.  By sheer chance, Binny and her guests, find themselves taken hostage by some bank robbers who pick her door to burst in through. I won’t say any more about the seige and what happens next.

Whereas before, the novel was broadly comedic concerning: men and mistresses, all the pressures on the hostess of a dinner party, stilted conversation around the table, it now becomes dangerous – very dark, yet still the same – which makes it funny indeed, although there is much underlying sadness.

In all the gritty Bainbridge dramas I’ve read so far, many of the characters are damaged in some way, particularly the women.  Here, when faced with adversity, Edward and Simpson revert back to being children, becoming objects of pity, while the women actually display some resilience.

I didn’t enjoy the siege half as much as the dinner party, but this was another fine and taut novel that has a lot to say about social mores of the time.  It won the Whitbread Prize for best novel in 1977.   (8.5/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Injury Time by Beryl Bainbridge, Abacus paperback.
Abigail’s Party (BBC) [1977] [DVD]

Beryl on the box & big screen …

Today, I offer you a survey of Beryl’s work for TV and film, with as many links to clips as I can find…

During the early part of her career, Beryl was an actress.  In 1961, she famously appeared in one episode of Coronation Street as the peace-protesting girlfriend of Ken Barlow. See BB in Corrie.

She wrote several plays/screenplays for the TV, notably one for the popular BBC strand of single dramas Play for Today called Tiptoe through the Tulips in 1976. Sadly none of these appear to be available to view clips of.  Beryl’s IMDB page lists them all.

Three of Beryl’s novels have been adapted for the big screen. The screenplay for Sweet William, as I mentioned in my review of the novel yesterday, was written by Beryl herself, and the film was released in 1980.  This was followed in 1988 by other writers’ adaptations of The Dressmaker, starring Joan Plowright, Billie Whitelaw and Pete Postlethwaite, and in 1995 by An Awfully Big Adventure with Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant and newcomer Georgina Cates.  Cates originally auditioned under her real name for the role of Stella, but didn’t get it.  So, she went home, dyed her hair red, thought up a new name and re-auditioned winning the part.  I’ve only seen the last of the three films, and remember enjoying it, however it’s only available as an expensive Polish import DVD(!) at the moment; the other two not having any better availability either.  However I can offer you the trailer (with American voice-over) for An Awfully Big Adventure if you click through to Beryl’s IMDB page, and scroll down a bit.

BBC2 Arena – Doctor Johnson’s Body Parts a short clip from the documentary According to Beryl, which accompanied the publication of her penultimate book According to Queeney about the last years of Dr Johnson.

Beryl was convinced she was going to die aged 71 – many of her family died at precisely that age. Her eldest grandson, Charlie Russell, made a documentary of her during that year (2007). I remember seeing it, and being fascinated by her. This clip is mostly of Charlie talking about the programme, but there are snippets from it in there. 

Finally, TV obituaries from July 2010 on BBC and ITN.  The BBC one includes a clip from her 1984 TV series English Journey in which she retraced Sir John Betjeman’s famous journey in 1933.

P.S. Many thanks to Margaret at Books Please who found this wonderful archive programme from 1983 of Beryl talking to psychiatrist Anthony Clare. It shows how autobiographical her early novels are – in particular A Quiet Life. Click here to watch.

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Don’t forget to leave a link in the comments if you’ve written a Beryl post, or have anything to say about her books, or the clips.

Love the one you’re with – the Bainbridge version

I was thinking of an apt title for this post and was planning on calling it ‘The man who loved women‘ after the celebrated François Truffaut film, but then I remembered the Stephen Stills song ‘Love the one you’re with‘. It seemed to encapsulate Bainbridge’s 1975 novel in a nutshell. (More of Stephen Stills below).

Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge

I bought a used copy of this book, not knowing which cover would turn up; and I love the Beryl Cook painting on this edition.  But when I opened it up, I had a wonderful surprise…

Ann is a secretary at the BBC. She is engaged to Gerald, but he’s just got a job in America and she won’t be able to join him until later. Ann’s mother is staying with her in her rented London flat and when they get home from Gerald’s leaving party at work,  she worries about her mother, while the slightly drunk Gerald has other intentions…

When he brought her home he pushed his way into the flat and tried to make her take her clothes off. She wouldn’t remove all of them, in case her mother came out of the bedroom. He bent her over the sofa and made love to her standing up. It didn’t work very well because he was too drunk; every time he lunged forward she was pressed against the upholstered arm, and dust filled her nose. They couldn’t lie down because the floor creaked. Gerald became terribly irritated by her lack of co-operation, but there was nothing she could do. Mrs Walton started moving about in the other room and coughing and calling out for cups of water. In the end Gerald swore and made a dreadful noise going downstairs – a sort of howl like a dog on the end of a chain. It was astonishing Mrs Walton didn’t come out in her while nylon nightgown and confront them both. She wasn’t a coward.

Ann’s mother is soon off back to Brighton, not standing for having to listen to her daughter’s noisy love-making; she is a product of a different era and doesn’t approve of Ann’s permissiveness. No sooner is Gerald off to the USA, than Ann finds herself being picked up by William McCluskey at the school harvest festival of all places. William is a larger than life, golden-haired playwright.

William sweeps her off her feet, and soon beds her, and Ann is suddenly deliriously in love.  When Ann’s cousin Pamela arrives, pregnant and needing a (still illegal) abortion, William is on hand to comfort, and soon he’s moved in. He persuades her to write to Gerald to call it off, and even jack in her job at the Beeb so she can devote herself to him. But as soon as he moves in, he starts disappearing at odd times, and the phone starts ringing with women wanting William…

You’ve guessed it – he just can’t keep his pants on, and doesn’t appear to realise the chaos that occurs in his wake.  Every woman he meets seems to fall for his charms.  He’s a philanderer with a big heart, but his conquests don’t know the scope of his attentions, as he weaves a complicated web of obfuscation and lies to cover his roving.

Although it all seems a bit 1970s, in that some of the attitudes are a bit dated – notably those of Ann and her mother, there are definitely William types still around, (I fell for one once!).  Womens’ lives and aspirations may have moved on, but we’re still suckers for love – I have a sneaking suspicion that I would have fallen for William too, (although his love of Scottish footballer Dennis Law might have put me off!).

According to her obituary in the Daily Telegraph, William was modelled on the chap she had a relationship with when she moved to London after her marriage broke up in Liverpool. The article quotes: “I didn’t exaggerate his character” recalled Beryl Bainbridge of her muse. “If anything I toned him down.”

I really enjoyed this black comedy of a romcom, always hoping that Ann would begin to stand up for herself, and that the loveable rogue William would get his comeuppance.  In its 160 pages, it moved at the pace of a West-End farce, never letting the action drop and ramping it up towards the end.  Great and wicked fun.(9/10)

As you can see from the selection of covers above, there’s a film tie-in one.  The 1980 film had a screenplay by Beryl and starred Sam Waterston and Jenny Agutter. You can see more about the film here at IMDB. There are many familiar names from British telly in the cast – Arthur Lowe, Anna Massey, Geraldine James, Tim Piggott-Smith, Peter Dean (Pete Beale from Eastenders), and oddly Melvyn Bragg as himself!  I’ve not seen it, but suspect it’s low budget and very much of its time…

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If you’d like to hear Stephen Stills singing ‘Love the one you’re with‘ – click through to Youtube here.

The song is from his self-titled debut solo album released in 1970.  I discovered CSNY in the late 70s, and loved this album. Never got the CD though – so it’s now on my wishlist.

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Sweet William by Beryl Bainbridge
Sweet William [DVD] [1980] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] starring Sam Waterston and Jenny Agutter
Stephen Stills Original recording remastered (CD).

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.