Tag Archives: Beryl Bainbridge

“I Don’t Deserve This Award – But Then I Have Arthritis And I Don’t Deserve That Either!”………..My Book Of The Year Awards!……….

……….Jack Benny I hope you noticed the nice mix in the titles for this post – the classic false modesty from the comedian Jack Benny followed by my own unlimited arrogance and vanity in announcing “my book of the year awards!!!!”

In a way though starting this post with Jack Benny is rather appropriate – his first words on Ed Sullivan’s radio show in the US in the early thirties was supposed to have been “This is Jack Benny talking. There will now be a short pause while you sit at home thinking –  ‘who cares?!”.

It just fits perfectly for:-

“This is my Book Of The Year Awards” post and there will now be a gap of at least two lines…

……….while you have a chance to think  – who the hell cares!!!!!

But if you reached this line you must be intrigued, so stick with it till the end  – you won’t be disappointed!

Well…..actually….. you might be disappointed at the end, but I’ll leave a couple more empty lines so I can think “So you’re disappointed! What the hell do I care?!”

And so my awards! I’ve read a lot of good books this year, heard some great music, seen some great gigs – and eaten some lovely pies! So here are my awards for 2012!

1. TV Programme Location of the Year

Waterloo Road
Memories – like the Corridors of My Mind!

The award goes to BBC’s “Waterloo Road” which is now filmed at “Greenock Academy”, my old school in Scotland. It allows me to indulge in spotting familiar walls, corridors and pupil toilets – which instead of impressing my daughter actually bores her rigid!

If you can get over the fact that they moved the school from England to Scotland and took all the kids with them into a sort of cult-cum-boarding unit, then the best of all is that while the BBC have tarted the building up for the fictional school, the quality of the teaching in the fictional school looks just as shite as I remember it being in the real school!!!

2. Book Week Of The Year

Much as I enjoyed the Muriel Spark Reading Week, the award for me goes to the Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, which Annabel’s House of Books hosted back in June of this year. I’d not read any of Beryl Bainbridge’s stuff before-hand – I loved it – quirky and sharp and just wonderful. It turned me from a Beryl-virgin to a Beryl-lover almost overnight!

3. The ‘Well Bugger Me I Didn’t Know That!’ Award for 2012

Birdie BowersThanks to book blogs I read quite a bit about the centenary of Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole in 1912. And through that I discovered that Birdie Bowers, who accompanied Captain Scott and was one of those who died alongside him at the end, originally came from my home town of Greenock in Scotland. We seem to make little of the connection which is odd to say the least as Greenock isn’t exactly bustling with well known explorers, actors, sportsmen, politicians or well known anythings! Anyway it led me to read a bit about his life – truly amazing man!

4. Best Bit Of Poetry Learned Off By Heart This Year Award

I’ve loved several new collections this year but my favourite was Seamus Heaney’s “Human Chain!”. And from the poem ‘Route 101’ I loved learning the following lines (and love boring people to death reciting them!)

“In a stained front-buttoned shopcoat / Sere brown piped with crimson / Out of the Classics bay into an aisle /  Smelling of dry rot and disinfectant / She emerges, absorbed in her coin count / Eyes front, right hand at work / In the slack marsupial vent / Of her change – pocket, thinking what to charge / For a used copy of Aeneid VI. / Dustbreath bestirred in the cubicle mouth / I inhaled as she slid my purchase / Into a deckle edged brown paper bag”

5. The “Terrific” Award (for books that aren’t my book of the year but came bloody close and so deserve again the accolade of my favourite word!)

Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller and The Museum Of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk were both

Terrific 1

A Thousand Autumns Of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell and A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry were both

Terrific 2

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (Books One, Two and Three) were all

Terrific 3

HHhH by Laurent Binet and If This Is A Man by Primo Levi were both

Terrific 4

Heartburn by Norah Ephron and The Art Of Fielding by Chad Harbach were both

Terrific 5

6. The “I’m Really Sorry But I Thought This Was Bloody Awful” Book Of The Year Award

Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit From The Goon Squad”. I just didn’t get it! I guess I’m not clever enough. Sorry Jen!

7. The ‘I Love Guy Garvey Of Elbow More Than Anyone Else Does’ Award

Guy GarveyWith apologies to my mate Steve Smith in Thailand, who fancies himself as a big Elbow fan but can’t be taken seriously as he chose to desert Guy and go live the life of Riley on the beaches of Thailand teaching people to dive (get a proper job you old fart!) and with my apologies to Guy Garvey’s girlfriend, the writer Emma Unsworth,  the award for the person who loves Guy Garvey more than anyone else does, goes to – ME!

8. The Album Of The Year

Dead easy – the beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous “Mid Air” by Paul Buchanan – have a quick listen!

9. Gig Of The Year

This is harder – I’ve seen Elbow a couple of times this year but I have to say we were absolutely awe-struck by the magnificent Bruce Springsteen at the Isle of Wight festival – we watched it knee deep in mud and didn’t give a shit! Truly wonderful!


10. Dive Of The Year

Suarez1This is a special category for my partner, my daughter and her family who are all Liverpool fans. The award goes to the Suarez2Olympic medal-winning last gasp effort from Tom Daley!

But for the runner-up you can choose any of half a dozen or more spectacular dives from that muppet Luiz Suarez!

11. Pie Of The Year

MandS pieThere’s nothing to beat Marks and Spencers! They have the gorgeous Twiggy in their ads, the fabulous sound of Dervla Kirwen doing the voiceover for the food commercials and their pies are great. This year my favourite was the individual Steak and Cornish IPA Ale pies – so fantastic if you gave me a choice between Twiggy, Dervla or the pie, it would be the pie every time!!!!!!!!!!!!!

12. Shite Gig But Chilli Con Carne Of The Year Award

We were unfortunate enough to see Coldplay at the Emirates earlier in the year – bloody awful! I should have known. I saw Coldplay when they were starting out, just after the Yellow album was released – they were at a lovely intimate venue at Brixton Academy – and yet they were bloody awful then as well! However we left the gig early and discovered the Chilli of The Year, washed down with Guinness, at a lovely little pub in Finsbury Park!

13. Comeback Of The Year

Roy 1This is a close run thing between two of my favourite men of books – the mercurial genius that is Roy Race, scourge of every team on the planet in his role as Roy Of The Rovers – and the mercurial genius that is Detective Inspector John Rebus, scourge of every criminal and low-life in Edinburgh and it’s environs in Iain Rankin’s novels- and as a Glaswegian it’s my job to say disparaging things about the good folk of Edinburgh! But since I thought Iain Rankin’s ‘Standing In Another Man’s Grave’ was brilliant, the winner for me is John Rebus! Plus as he has won it allows me to have a couple of pints and a couple of whiskies to honour his achievement! If Roy Of The Rovers had won I’d have been forced to go down the park, beat all the kids at “3 and you’re in!” and then do at least 100 on keepie-uppie – and I’m much more of a five beers than a five-a-side man these days!

14. And finally, my Book Of The Year

I’ve read so many that have been terrific but one just noses ahead – not by much, but by enough to be the read of the year for me – the beautiful story of Jack and Mabel in The Snow Girl by Eowyn Ivey.

The Snow Child

Now I’d said earlier in the year that I would choose a book of the year – and in my own version of the Costa Prize, that I’d buy the winning author a coffee. And I’d like to be true to my word – so if Eowyn Ivey ever reads this and fancies collecting this illustrious prize, I’ll meet her any week day by the Cafe Nero coffee stall in Victoria Station – I’m in the queue most mornings around half past seven – the lattes are on me Eowyn!

And having started with the acerbic wit of Jack Benny on awards, I’d like to end with the acerbic wit of my partner. On the day that the New Year Honours were announced she initially amazed me by saying she’d love to be nominated for an award – and when I expressed astonishment as this didn’t fit with her strong principles and said “Really???????????????????” she replied – “Yeah! So I could then tell them to stick their award up their arse!!!!!!” – That’s my girl!

So if Eowyn Ivey tells me where to put my offer of a free latte as my Book Of The Year, I’ll understand completely!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Odd Couple – But With More Bitter Lemon Than Jack Lemmon!………..What I Thought Of The Bottle Factory Outing By Beryl Bainbridge

The Odd Couple……….Beryl Bainbridge’s Bottle Factory Outing is a book about a chalk-and-cheese-couple, who reminded me of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the film of Neil Simon’s play “The Odd Couple” – complete opposites living a ‘can’t live with you but can’t live without you either!’  kind of existence, which is farcical and funny, but with Beryl Bainbridge there is a much more acidic, sharper, and very, very, bitter taste to the comedy – this is the sort of comedy that’s just as likely to make you wince and grimace as it is to make you smile and laugh!

It’s been about three weeks since I finished Beryl Bainbridge’s The Bottle Factory Outing as part of the Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, hosted by Annabel at Gaskella. In that time I’ve read and reviewed other books. But I’ve been putting off writing a review of this book because I just didn’t know what to make of it. It’s an odd book, and as I mentioned before, it’s about a very odd couple!

Brenda and Freda are friends (sort of!), flatmates, and work colleagues at the bottling factory where they both work on the production line. Both have had their ups and downs, and to be honest, if you’d kept a score throughout their lives, probably a lot more downs than ups!! The story sees them preparing for and then going on a works outing which they are organising, partly to add a little change and colour to their fairly drab lives and partly because Freda has an ulterior motive – to get her hands on Vittorio, the relative of the factory owner and the most desirable of the many Italian immigrants working in the factory. Much of Brenda and Freda’s lives revolve around the everyday and their work at the factory, owned by the almost mysterious Mr Paganotti, who is mentioned throughout the book but never actually appears. There’s a host of strong Italian support characters, mostly from the factory, such as the unusual and amorous Mr Rossi, with a slightly eccentric Irishman chucked in for good measure!

However, it’s the relationship between Freda and Brenda that is the heart and soul of the book. But I hesitate to call it a friendship – it reads and feels more like a kind of social and emotional marriage of convenience than a friendship. And from the outset, the odd feel to the book is rooted in this slightly bizarre pair. Their first meeting is odd – Freda virtually force-feeding Brenda into being adopted/taken under Freda’s wing(not a terribly cosy or safe place to be!!), after a chance encounter in a shop as Brenda flees from a disastrous marriage, a seriously mad mother-in-law and a husband who is the village ‘soak’ essentially! The oddness is maintained in their everyday lives – for example, separated at night in the bed they share by a bolster of books of all things!

The first part of the book sets up the story and while mildly amusing in several places it’s a gentler kind of comedy here. It’s at the factory outing where the story really takes off into a whole new level of odd and where it really does become the blackest The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridgeof black comedies!  From this point on I’ll say nothing more about the story for fear of spoiling it but suffice to say it’s full of twists, blind alleys and an eventual denouement which is both hilarious and tragic at the same time! I laughed at it – but I’m ashamed to admit that I laughed at it!

So if it was hilarious, why wait so long pondering what to make of it before I came to review it?

I think the answer lies in the “black” part of black comedy – I found this to be so sharp, so acutely observed and so raw in places that it was almost uncomfortable to read. The tensions between Freda and Brenda or between them and the other characters are painful to observe in places – you almost feel embarrassed – it’s a bit like when you see a couple rowing in public and you want the ground to open up and swallow you even though you don’t even know them!

The few Beryl Bainbridge books I’ve read are all slightly quirky and odd – populated with characters who, if they were flat shapes would be all corners and sharp edges rather than smooth and curved! This is no exception. And yet, on reflection I did enjoy it – and I judge that partly on the basis that I laughed out loud several times when I was reading this book! (that in itself was an uncomfortable feeling though as I read this book on the dreaded, evil, Kindle, while walking the dog in the park – the looks from other dog-walkers and park -users at the man with the dog suddenly breaking out into laughter will forever be in my memory and associated with this book!).

Another feature of the other Beryl Bainbridge books I’ve read is that you get plenty of ‘bangs for your bucks’ with her. This was a short and very easy to read novel – and yet it’s got comedy, farce, horror, violence, love, poverty, royalty, and much more, all packed into it! You can’t do anything but like the way she writes and the characters she draws, who don’t just leap off the page at you but who also grab you by the throat and pin you down until you submit!

Overall – the book is odd – it’s about an odd couple in an odd relationship living in odd circumstances. It’s a book that is quirky odd, cruelly odd, viciously odd, uncomfortably odd, and blackly odd, but overall it’s really hilariously, terrifically, odd! And on that contradiction in terms, I’ll finish!!!!

I read this having been encouraged / inspired by Beryl Bainbridge Reading week. I know a number of others read and reviewed both The Bottle Factory Outing and most of the other Beryl Bainbridge novels and short stories and there’s a summary page at Annabel’s blog Gaskella, listing all of them if you’d like to read more about the Bottle Factory Outing or other Beryl Bainbridge novels!

“Georgie Boy Was Gay I Guess, Nothing More And Nothing Less” – Or Was He?……….What I Thought Of………. Master Georgie By Beryl Bainbridge

……….This was my first foray into the work of Beryl Bainbridge and it won’t be the last. Alas, in reviewing the book, I have to admit that I’ve only read it once – and that might be important if Beryl Bainbridge herself is right.

She once said that “most people have to read Master Georgie at least three times before they understand it”. Now the use of the phrase “most people” certainly allows a little lee-way for a first time reader of the book like me – maybe I’m the exception to the rule that Beryl Bainbridge had in mind – but somehow I doubt it! So I’m just going to have to go for writing about it after reading the book once – at least any mistakes I make or any comment I make that some might disagree with can be explained away by “what do you expect – he’s still got two more reads of the book to go!”

Master Georgie tells the story of four characters in the years leading up to and through the beginning of, the Crimean War. Georgie Hardy has two passions – becoming a surgeon and photography. He goes off to the Crimean War to offer his services as a surgeon, accompanied by Myrtle, who is his adopted sister and who is hopelessly in love with him and his brother-in-law Dr Potter, an armchair geologist and expert on the limestone of the Eastern Steppes! While in Crimea, they are joined by an acquaintance from home, Pompey Jones, who is a photographers assistant and part-time fire-eater!  Jones provides the tension in the relationships between him and the other three characters and in his effect on their relationships with one another.

In many ways this is a simple and straightforward read. It’s very short, very readable and the style seems simple – yet this is a book that really does keep you on your toes the whole way through. The story is told through the backdrop of six photographic plates which are used to set scene and context for the six parts of the story and the events are spread over the period between 1846 and 1854. The narrator changes for each of the plates and this was one of several things that gave the book a slightly odd and quirky feel to me. Along with the change of narrator, the location shifts in line with events, from 19th century Liverpool with its contrasting wealth and poverty, to the almost comic-opera Constantinople with the British Army en route to Crimea and then to different locations in Crimea itself. The use of different narrators means that as the story unfolds, you get a number of different perspectives on the same event. Sometimes this is done through the narrators perspective at the time of the event and sometimes through a character looking back in time to events in earlier chapters. The net effect is that it’s a book that’s impossible to predict despite its apparent simplicity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the description of the sexual relationship between Georgie and Pompey Jones. Myrtle’s idolised perspective sees Georgie as someone who can do no wrong. In the eyes of Jones however, their encounter was the result of Georgie’s drunken attempt to take advantage of him. Later still Georgie’s version has it that Jones was the drunk in the encounter. It leaves the reader with the feeling that you know something went on but you can’t be sure exactly what and why and therefore you pay your money and take your choice. I liked the way Beryl Bainbridge used this technique on more than one occasion to give the story several twists and turns.

The characters are similar to the narrative in appearing to be simple and straightforward on the surface but emerging as increasingly complex when seen through the eyes of others or the lens of time. What was interesting for me was that I felt I got to know the characters of Georgie, Myrtle and Dr Potter really well but the character of Pompey Jones remains somewhat hidden. It gives him a slightly detached, almost sinister feel as you read the book. As I read the book, against the backdrop of the horrific experience of the war in Crimea and the perpetual threat of death and disease which hangs over every character, I got the feeling that no matter what Jones will survive – he reminded me of the old adage about the first thing to recover after nuclear devastation will be the cockroach – for me Jones is a kind of Victorian cockroach with an in-built survival instinct!

For all that I enjoyed the book, it left me with a slightly flat feeling on finishing it. It’s really good but I wouldn’t say it was “fun” to read I guess! The writing is really clever and the characters are full and intriguing so that they draw you in to their world and to their thoughts. This is Beryl Bainbridge’s masterly description of the petty madness within Georgie’s mother, Mrs Hardy.

“There was a silence for a long minute, broken by tapping. I swivelled on my haunches, making believe I was attending to the bony head of the tiger. Mrs Hardy was stabbing at the food on her plate and giving one of her stares, eyes lachrymose with bulging misery; gravy splattered the cloth. Master Georgie had explained to me that the stare was peculiar to a malfunction of the thyroid, a gland common to us all, only in Mrs Hardy’s case it had started growing. As for her misery, why that was all due to her husband; she was a neglected wife.”

However there’s little joy in the story and the writing, though my guess – having only read the book the once of course – is that this is what Beryl Bainbridge intended. Because what it ends up doing brilliantly is giving you a glimpse into the complex emotions of characters in the midst of a horrific war and it feels like something which will affect them and society well into the future. There’s a kind of naive almost surreal innocence to the early part of the British Army’s journey to Crimea – they are accompanied by wives, children, and many of their possessions from home, as far as Constantinople! It kind of feels like a mass Sunday-School outing! But the misery and waste are lying in wait, as you know they will be. While the descriptions of war itself are very few, the description of its aftermath and consequences are laid bare. It part ridicules the stiff-upper-lip and gung-ho of the Light Brigade mentality while at the same time exposing the war as something which in the end was utterly, utterly, pointless and tragic. Aren’t they always?

Overall, I really did enjoy this book. And for what it’s worth, on that issue about the sexual relationship between Jones and Georgie, my money is on the Jones’ version. But as I’ve only read the book once I’m probably wrong!

If you are interested in other reviews of Master Georgie, or of other Beryl Bainbridge novels, the reviews compiled during Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week are being collated at Annabel’s blog Gaskella.

Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week starts today!……….

……….The week long read and reviewing of the works of Beryl Bainbridge is being hosted at Gaskella and it kicks off today. It’s a great idea and I certainly enjoyed a Muriel Spark Reading Week hosted earlier this year – so I’m looking forward to it immensley.

I’ve already started both reading and drafting reviews about a couple of Beryl Bainbridge novels, having finished Master Georgie and reached just past half way with The Bottle Factory Outing. I’m reading both of those on the dreaded / evil Kindle – and secretly enjoyed it! Both books have been really good though so perhaps that’s helped me feel slightly less guilty about giving in to the lure of the Kindle and The Dark Side!

I’ve also managed to pick up a couple of other Beryl Bainbridge novels in a couple of the really good second hand bookshops near where I live so I also have According To Queenie and An Awfully Big Adventure to look forward to either later this week or into next week.

It’s early days of course but already there is the first review, written by Annabel herself, on her Gaskella blog, which is about the very first piece of fiction written by Beryl Bainbridge, Harriet Said, published in the 1950’s. It’s a great review and well worth a read if you are at all interested in Beryl Bainbridge. As the week goes on there will definitely be more and more reviews appearing and they’ll all be collated in links available on Gaskella’s site.

I’ve got my first review drafted and hopefully I’ll finish it later today. Then as soon as I finish ‘Bottle Factory’ I’ll have the pleasure to write about it too – it’s been a pleasure to read so far!

Now I’ll get on with reading the remainder of it!