Thursday, March 12, 2009

"An Awfully Big Adventure" by Beryl Bainbridge

First "Harriet Said," then "According to Queeny," and now "An Awfully Big Adventure." Beryl Bainbridge has a real facility for troubled, unreliable, inscrutable, dangerous, and somewhat sociopathic pubescent girls.

Since I discovered her writing last year I have been slowly collecting her work...a used book here, a reprint there. Something has kept me from devouring them all in one sitting, as though each one must be read at exactly the right time and long after the previous one. Each of the three novels I've read have left me totally satisfied and a little stuffed; they're delicious dinners, the kind you don't want to eat every night.

"An Awfully Big Adventure" is amazing. Bainbridge has a touch of Vladimir Nabokov to her, an art of setting up a logical sequence of characters and props, and then allowing them to operate quietly behind the main action of the book. The perceptive reader catches glimpses of these background objects and tries to guess their trajectories, and it seems that when everything comes together in a Bainbridge novel it must be a tragedy, but a PERFECT tragedy; something that the victims, two hundred pages ago, should have seen coming.

Let me try to describe this better: these books are beautiful, witty, vicious, and true. They're about the unreliable memories of others and ourselves. They're about the disconnect between what people say and what they actually feel, and the effect this disconnect has on other characters (and the reader).

But on top of all that the stories are GOOD stories, they're well-formed and satisfying. Like, "An Awfully Big Adventure" may be unconventional under the surface, containing layer upon layer of translucent meaning, but on top of it all it's about second-rate actors in a scruffy British reperatory theater, coping with postwar shellshock and unrequited love and...well, I won't say anything more. You should just read it.

I notice that the local video store just got the movie adaptation in, starring Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman. I have a feeling I'll hate it, but I'll watch it anyway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A Weekend with Claud (1967)
Another Part of the Wood (1968)
Harriet Said... (1972)
The Dressmaker (US title The Secret Glass) (1973) - Shortlisted for Booker Prize
The Bottle Factory Outing (1974) - Shortlisted for Booker Prize, won the Guardian Fiction Prize
Sweet William (1975)
A Quiet Life (1976)
Injury Time (1977)
Young Adolf (1978)
Another Part of the Wood (revised edn) (1979)
Winter Garden (1980)
A Weekend with Claude (revised edn) (1981)
Watson's Apology (1984)
An Awfully Big Adventure (1989) - Shortlisted for Booker Prize
The Birthday Boys (1991)
Every Man for Himself (1996) - Shortlisted for Booker Prize
Master Georgie (1998) - Shortlisted for Booker Prize
According to Queeney (2001)

Short stories
Mum and Mr Armitage (1985)
Collected Stories (1994)

English Journey (1984)
Forever England: North and South (1987)
Something Happened Yesterday (1993)
Front Row: Evenings at the Theatre (2005)