Sunday, June 24, 2012

{review} the bottle factory outing

This is almost my last post for a month. I'm off to Edinburgh (for a conference, the preparation for which has been interfering greatly with my reading), various bits of England, and Paris. I shan't be posting much until I get back, but I might do some 'monitoring' of my pâtisserie intake via twitter. I will have a post up for Paris in July sometime too. 

However, I couldn't envisage leaving the country without having done my post for Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week (the brainchild of gaskella). 


Beryl Bainbridge The Bottle Factory Outing (1974)
‘That’s Italian, isn’t it, Rossi?’ asked Freda. She pointed at an inscription on the wall. ‘What’s it say?’
He studied it carefully. ‘Ah well,’ he said, ‘it is the Latin.’
Ave lumen oculorum
Liberator languidorum
Dentium angustia
‘Hail bright eyes,’ said Brenda unexpectedly. ‘Sleepy liberator … bent anguish.’
‘What’s that mean?’ asked Freda.
‘It is the sufferers from toothache,’ explained Vittorio; and Brenda felt it was an omen. Here, far from the farm and the absent Stanley, someone was caring for her teeth.


Well! I suspect that this book was either the perfect and lucky choice for a Beryl Bainbridge first-timer to select, or else all of her books are brilliant. I am really hoping the latter is the case, as I can't wait to read some more.

I'm not going to spoil the plot if I say that The Bottle Factory Outing deals with just that topic. Two English girls hold down low-wage jobs sticking labels on bottles in a smallish wine-bottling factory in London owned by an Italian. It is freezingly cold ("after midday, when the damp got to her bones, she climbed into a mail bag for warmth") and the conditions are appalling. The alcohol is only a perk or sorts:
Tearing herself free she stumbled from the washroom and ran back to her beer crate and her labels. She supposed it was the fumes from the wine that kept them all in a constant state of lust. It wasn’t as if she set out to be desirable.
All the other employees are Italian, and it is very much a closed shop. One of the English girls, Freda, is a big, exuberant, Rubenesque type, who "longed to be flung into the midst of chaos" - a natural bully:
She was five foot ten in height, twenty-six years old, and she weighed sixteen stone. All her life she had cherished the hope that one day she would become part of a community, a family. She wanted to be adored and protected, she wanted to be called ‘little one’.
The other, Brenda, is a browbeaten shy creature who exists in a constant state of embarrassment and fear - a natural victim ("flattening her vowels to accommodate him"):
‘Is she coming?’ asked Brenda.
‘God knows,’ said Freda, and she went upstairs to the bathroom, taking a pan of water with her to flush down the lavatory. The cistern had been broken for ten days and the landlady said she couldn’t find a plumber to mend it. Only Freda was inconvenienced. Brenda, who would have died rather than let the other occupants of the house know she used the toilet, usually went round the corner to the tube station.
Freda organizes a rare outing for the factory employees - a way of attempting a seduction of the boss's second-in-command. But things do not go to plan...

Some things that really struck me about this book:
  • the astonishingly wonderful prose, with no words out of place and every word so loaded with intent; 
  • the precision of the plotting, whereby signs barely registered before the event become loaded with significance in hindsight; the feel for 'place' whether it be the girls' shabby bedsit or the battered bus in a lion park near Windsor:
Brenda had fashioned a bolster to put down the middle of the bed and a row of books to ensure that they lay less intimately at night. Freda complained that the books were uncomfortable – but then she had never been married. At night when they prepared for bed Freda removed all her clothes and lay like a great fretful baby, majestically dimpled and curved. Brenda wore her pyjamas and her underwear and a tweed coat – that was the difference between them. Brenda said it was on account of nearly being frozen to death in Ramsbottom, but it wasn’t really that.
I also cannot fathom how Bainbridge manages to pull of an incredibly surreal scene about two-thirds through the book during which, as reader, I too felt as though wrapped in the scene's fog of shock and incomprehension, as though removed at a few paces from the action that nevertheless continues apace, but where the everyday reality has tipped over into surreality. It was a real down-the-rabbit-hole moment.

A really excellent read and I am so grateful to gaskella for persuading me to read some Beryl Bainbridge. I have so enjoyed reading everyone else's thoughts on her books as well this week.
He was a man of sensibilities and everything was against her – his background, his nationality, the particular regard he had for women or a category of womanhood to which she did not belong. By the strength of her sloping shoulders, the broad curve of her throat, the dimpled vastness of her columnar thighs, she would manoeuvre him into her arms. I will be one of those women, she thought, painted naked on ceilings, lolling amidst rose-coloured clouds. She straightened and stared at a chair. She imagined how she might mesmerise him with her wide blue eyes. Wearing a see-through dressing-gown chosen from a Littlewoods catalogue, she would open the door to him... Against her will her mind dwelt on an image of Brenda in the cellar, cobwebs lacing her hair, and Rossi, hands trembling, tearing her newspaper to shreds. I will rip you to pieces, she thought; and her hand flew to her mouth as if she had spoken aloud. Beyond the romantic dreams, the little girl waiting to be cuddled, it was power of a kind she was after. It is not so much that I want him, she thought, but that I would like him to want me.
Which one should I read next?!

This is Dame Beryl Bainbridge's writing area, 
photographed by Eamonn McCabe in 2007. 
The gun is a toy (apparently!). Source (and a close-up here)

4 comments:

  1. This definitely seems to be the group favourite from the reviews I've seen and it sounds like a great set up for Bainbridge's trademark dark humour and memorable final twist. Your review has convinced me, I really must get hold of a copy. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Alex! - I think the one that I will go for next is the (dark sounding) Harriet Said.

      Delete
  2. All her books are wonderful, but this is my favourite (with Sweet William a close second), so far. Fantastic review - I'm glad you enjoyed it, and have a great trip.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Annabel - I've so enjoyed this week.

      Delete

{READ IN 2018}

  • FEBRUARY
  • 30.
  • 29.
  • 28.
  • 27.
  • 26. The Grave's a Fine & Private Place - Alan Bradley
  • 25. This is What Happened - Mick Herron
  • 24. London Rules - Mick Herron
  • 23. The Third Eye - Ethel Lina White
  • 22. Thrice the Brindled Cat Hath Mewed - Alan Bradley
  • 21. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust - Alan Bradley
  • 20. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley
  • 19. Speaking from Among the Bones - Alan Bradley
  • JANUARY
  • 18. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman
  • 17. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
  • 16. The Long Arm of the Law - Martin Edwards (ed.)
  • 15. Nobody Walks - Mick Herron
  • 14. The Talented Mr Ripley - Patricia Highsmith
  • 13. Portrait of a Murderer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 12. Murder is a Waiting Game - Anthony Gilbert
  • 11. Tenant for the Tomb - Anthony Gilbert
  • 10. Death Wears a Mask - Anthony Gilbert
  • 9. Night Encounter - Anthony Gilbert
  • 8. The Visitor - Anthony Gilbert
  • 7. The Looking Glass Murder - Anthony Gilbert
  • 6. The Voice - Anthony Gilbert
  • 5. The Fingerprint - Anthony Gilbert
  • 4. Ring for a Noose - Anthony Gilbert
  • 3. No Dust in the Attic - Anthony Gilbert
  • 2. Uncertain Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 1. She Shall Died - Anthony Gilbert

{READ IN 2017}

  • DECEMBER
  • 134. Third Crime Lucky - Anthony Gilbert
  • 133. Death Takes a Wife - Anthony Gilbert
  • 132. Death Against the Clock - Anthony Gilbert
  • 131. Give Death a Name - Anthony Gilbert
  • 130. Riddle of a Lady - Anthony Gilbert
  • 129. And Death Came Too - Anthony Gilbert
  • 128. Snake in the Grass - Anthony Gilbert
  • 127. Footsteps Behind Me - Anthony Gilbert
  • 126. Miss Pinnegar Disappears - Anthony Gilbert
  • 125. Lady-Killer - Anthony Gilbert
  • 124. A Nice Cup of Tea - Anthony Gilbert
  • 123. Die in the Dark - Anthony Gilbert
  • 122. Death in the Wrong Room - Anthony Gilbert
  • 121. The Spinster's Secret - Anthony Gilbert
  • 120. Lift up the Lid - Anthony Gilbert
  • 119. Don't Open the Door - Anthony Gilbert
  • 118. The Black Stage - Anthony Gilbert
  • 117. A Spy for Mr Crook - Anthony Gilbert
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  • 114. Something Nasty in the Woodshed - Anthony Gilbert
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  • 113. Death in the Blackout - Anthony Gilbert
  • 112. The Woman in Red - Anthony Gilbert
  • 111. The Vanishing Corpse - Anthony Gilbert
  • 110. London Crimes - Martin Edwards (ed.)
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  • 108. The Clock in the Hatbox - Anthony Gilbert
  • 107. Dear Dead Woman - Anthony Gilbert
  • 106. The Bell of Death - Anthony Gilbert
  • 105. Treason in my Breast - Anthony Gilbert
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  • 102. Murder by Experts - Anthony Gilbert
  • 101. The Perfect Murder Case - Christopher Bush
  • 100. The Plumley Inheritance - Christopher Bush
  • 99. Spy - Bernard Newman
  • 98. Cargo of Eagles - Margery Allingham & Philip Youngman Carter
  • 97. The Mind Readers - Margery Allingham
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 96. The China Governess - Margery Allingham
  • 95. Hide My Eyes - Margery Allingham
  • 94. The Beckoning Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 93. The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
  • 92. More Work for the Undertaker - Margery Allingham
  • 91. Coroner's Pidgin - Margery Allingham
  • 90. Traitor's Purse - Margery Allingham
  • 89. The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham
  • 88. The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
  • 87. Dancers in Mourning - Margery Allingham
  • AUGUST
  • 86. Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
  • 85. Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
  • 84. Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
  • 83. Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
  • 82. Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham
  • 81. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
  • 80. The Crime at Black Dudley - Margery Allingham
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  • 73. Pilgrim's Rest - Patricia Wentworth
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  • 67. Out of the Past - Patricia Wentworth
  • 66. Mistress - Amanda Quick
  • 65. The Black Widow - Daniel Silva
  • 64. The Narrow - Michael Connelly
  • 63. The Poet - Michael Connelly
  • 62. The Visitor - Lee Child
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
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  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
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  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
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  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
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  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • APRIL
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • MARCH
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • FEBRUARY
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • JANUARY
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore