In June 2012, I hosted a Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week. It was a great success and I started this page to keep a record of all the reviews from the final round-up post and beyond and also to chart my own continuing progress in reading all of her books. I did it again in 2016 and the wrap-up post from BBRW 2 is here.
The third Reading Beryl week will be November 2023 from 18-26, enveloping her birthdate on the 21st.
Here’s Beryl’s bibliography with review links, in chronological-ish order.
Harriet Said (1972)
Two schoolgirls are on holiday in a Northern resort. One becomes interested 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.
The Dressmaker (1973)
Titled The Secret Glass in the USA, it gained her first Booker shortlist nomination. Set in wartime Liverpool, Rita falls in love with Ira, a GI. Her aunts Nellie and Margo aren’t convinced though. Billed as darkly comic.
The Bottle Factory Outing (1974)
Won the Guardian fiction prize and achieved a 2nd Booker shortlisting. Brenda and Freda work for an Italian wine importer and are organising a works outing – it’s all going to go wrong. Complex, very black comedy, superb (my favourite).
Reviewed by: Ali at Heavenali, Skiourophile, Sophia at Page Plucker, Harriet Devine, Annabel, Simon at Stuck in a Book, Cathy at 746 Books, Sarah at Hard Book Habit, Guy Savage, Max Cairnduff, Karen at Bookertalk.
Sweet William (1975)
Ann throws over her fiancé Gerald for William – a serial womaniser. Can’t live with him, can’t live without him – what is she to do? Very funny.
A Quiet Life(1976)
A post-war family drama set in the 1950s – Everyone in Alan’s family has something to hide, they’re all hanging on in quiet desperation, to quote Pink Floyd. Turns out this one is very autobiographical.
Edward is throwing a dinner party with his mistress, Binny. However, some unexpected people arrive and turn everything to chaos … a painful comedy.
A young Adolf Hitler turns up to stay with his brother in Liverpool. Artist Adolf is a slacker who gets into trouble easily though – how will he turn out? Sounds like Beryl is at her wickedest in this novel of high farce!
Another Part of the Wood (1968, revised 1979)
Her second novel, but revised and republished in 1979. Joseph takes his mistress, son and some friends to stay in a cabin in deepest Wales for the weekend. It won’t work, will it?!
Reviewed by: Annabel here
Douglas takes a mistress, Nina, but soon he’s not able to cope with being an adulterer. Telling his wife needs a break, she packs him off fishing in the Highlands, but instead he goes to Moscow with Nina. Uh-Oh! Things will go wrong…
Reviewed by: Annabel here
A Weekend with Claude (1967, revised 1981)
Another early novel revised and republished. A weekend in the country goes very wrong and ends up with someone being shot.
The first of Beryl’s historical novels, this book recounts the story of a clergyman who, in 1851, bludgeoned his wife to death. Based on a real case, she presents a portrait of how this terrible crime might have come to happen.
Reviewed by: Heaven Ali
Filthy Lucre(1946, pub 1986)
Next a piece of Juvenalia written when she was a teenager. Subtitled The tragedy of Ernest Ledwhistle and Richard Soleway: A story, it’s a short novel inspired by Dickens and Treasure Island.
An Awfully Big Adventure (1989)
A third shortlisting for the Booker Prize. Set in 1950 and following the rehearsals for a Christmas production of Peter Pan, this novel follows the coming of age of young Asst Stage Manager Stella, and her relationships with the director Meredith, and the actor playing Hook. A bittersweet tale of innocence and loss.
The Birthday Boys (1991)
Bainbridge tells the story of Scott’s final push to the South Pole. The five men each take a turn in telling the story, each putting their stamp on the narrative. Masterful – I loved it.
Reviewed by: Annabel from my archive, Margaret at Books Please
Every Man For Himself (1996)
Winner of the Whitbread Novel Prize, and Beryl’s fourth Booker shortlisting. It tells the fateful story of the Titanic through the eyes of Morgan, a rich young man related to the ship’s owner. In concentrating on the first class characters, it paints a portrait of an insular group with an impressive array of vices.
Master Georgie (1998)
Gaining a final fifth Booker shortlisting, this novel won the posthumous Booker ‘Best of Beryl’. It follows the story of a Liverpudlian doctor who heads for the Crimea for some excitement. His story is narrated by three different voices of those associated with him: an orphan devoted to her Master Georgie; his scholarly brother-in-law; and a street urchin who becomes George’s lover.
According to Queeney (2001)
Beryl brings the last years of great wit Samuel Johnson to life as see through the eyes of Queeney, the first born daughter of his mistress. We meet many other famous names of the period and explore Johnson’s relationship with his friend and benefactor Mrs Thrale.
The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (2011)
Beryl’s last novel returns to the late 1960s after Martin Luther King’s assassination. It follows the story of Rose and a man called Washington Harold who travel across the USA in search of a man called Dr Wheeler – each having a need to find him – one benign, one less so.
Reviewed by: Kheenand at Booker Talk
Two collections are available:
Mum and Mr. Armitage: Selected Stories (1985)
A collection of twelve tales that tend to be unsettling in their conclusions.
Collected Stories (1994)
Which comprises Mum and Mr Armitage + 3 more short stories + Filthy Lucre.
English Journey or the Road to Milton Keynes(1984) – Book of a TV series in which Beryl retraced the footsteps of J B Priestley’s famous English Journey
fifty years previously. Reviewed by: Alex in Leeds
Forever England: North and South (1987) I know nothing about this book, but am hoping that a clue is in the title!
Something Happened Yesterday (1993) is a collection of her weekly columns from the now defunct London Evening Standard newspaper about anything and everything. Reviewed by: Simon T at Stuck in a Book
Front Row: Evenings at the Theatre (1995) A collection of Beryl’s writing about the theatre, concentrating on the 1990s when she wrote many reviews for The Oldie. Reviewed by: Annabel from my archive.
Books About Beryl
Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes (2012) – The first biography of Beryl looks at her other life as an artist as well as her writing career. Written by one of her friends. Reviewed by: Annabel from my archive.
Writers and their Works: Beryl Bainbridge by Huw Marsh (2014)
Beryl Bainbridge: Love by All Sorts of Means (2016) The first full biography of her by Brendan King, her long-term friend and collaborator, Bloomsbury.
Other Beryl posts and links you must see:
- Author Stephen May’s story about the night he gave Beryl a piggy-back from an event to her hotel! Lovely.
- Simon T’s Beryl Sketch,
- Simon T’s links to Beryl on Desert Island Discs.
- Beryl talking to psychiatrist Anthony Clare in 1983 from the BBC Archives. It shows how autobiographical her early novels are – in particular A Quiet Life. Found by Margaret at Books Please
- My post Beryl on the box and big screen a survey of film and TV links.
- My post on The Booker Bridesmaid & The Best of Beryl
- Paris Review interview (Issue No 164)