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Dame Beryl Bainbridge, DBE

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I am very sorry to report that the much admired English novelist Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge, DBE (21 November 1934 – 2 July 2010) has died.

I did not discover her until 1977 when she won a “Whitbread Award” for “Injury Time” an award she garnered for a second time in 1996.

I especially enjoyed her last book “According to Queeney”, her literary fictional observation of the latter years of Samuel Johnson.

As recorded in today’s obituaries, Beryl Bainbridge was included among The Times list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".






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And ... the New York Times:


Like you, I first read Bainbridge in the 70s,. In my case, the introduction was Sweet William, which I picked up at the public library after being intrigued by the jacket copy.

I read a number of Bainbridge novels during the 70s and have to confess that manyl of my impression of what English people are (or can be) like comes from them and similar works. Certainly they expanded my view of English society, which up to that point had tended to consist of aristocrats (some glamourous, some fatuous), earnest Bloombury-ites, Bright Young Things, dotty village murderers, and deeply neurotic academics. The characters she created -- I'm tempted to say, "conjured up" -- are so vivid, so tightly constructed and whole, that you have to believe in them even when they seem at first glance to be implausible.

Sometimes the world according to Austen or Woolf can start feeling narrow and claustrophobic, When someone reaches that point, Bainbridge might be just the thing they need.

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Thanks for posting this sad news, leonid. I've only read two of Bainbridge's,The Birthday Boys and An Awfully Big Adventure, and enjoyed them both.

I can't say I could ever find Austen claustrophobic - rather the opposite - but Bainbridge's writing certainly reflects the greater ability of women to get out of the house these days.

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A nice appreciation by AN Wilson in The Guardian.

The house was crammed with figures who were easier than husbands – plaster saints, and a life-size model of Neville Chamberlain, who sat rather ominously in her bedroom window. Here she sat too, among the lifeless figurines, bringing her own characters to life on the page. Like Anna Haycraft, she had embraced Catholicism in the Liverpool of the 1940s, when it was the equivalent of taking crack cocaine, about the most annoying thing you could do to Protestant parents. I do not think Beryl believed much, or indeed any, of it. She thought the modern Catholic church "bloody wet" – a phrase which was also used of non-smokers.

The plaster saints were not real. Dickens was her real patron, and she was the only writer of our day who had a truly Dickensian gift. Like Dickens, she used all the buried ghosts of a presumably unhappy childhood to produce a gallery of literary comedy. She would sometimes stand in Bayham Street, Camden Town, and a look of real reverence came over her face as we recalled the child Dickens leaving from that address each morning on the long walk down to the boot-blacking factory in the Strand.

Interesting that her publisher did not favor fiction.

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