Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

51oGR5YKfWLTitle: Every Man for Himself

Author: Beryl Bainbridge

Publisher: Abacus (my edition was 2002 reprint)

Pages: 224 paperback

Why I chose to read this book: I am a subscriber to the quarterly magazine Slightly Foxed (and I would certainly recommend it as a gift to yourself or a fellow reading fan who likes learning about new authors). There was an article on Beryl Bainbridge and she sounded like one of the people I would include in the answer to my question of who I would have at my dinner party. Thus I sought her books out, came across this one and bought it instantly.

Review:

For the four fraught, mysterious days of her doomed maiden voyage in 1912, the Titanic sails towards New York, glittering with luxury, freighted with millionaires and hopefuls. In her labyrinthine passageways are played out the last, secret hours of a small group of passengers, their fate sealed in prose of startling, sublime beauty, as Beryl Bainbridge’s haunting masterpiece moves inexorably to its known and terrible end.

Beryl smouldering into the camera with a permanent burning cigarette held languorously between her fingers – she just seems to oozed aloof cool from every pore – I couldn’t wait to start reading – and to be wholly frank – and to probably remove any need to read this review – she didn’t disappoint, not in the slightest – her writing was breathtaking.

The central character, who leads us through the social elite residing on the first class deck is, Morgan (related to THE J. P Morgan). He is damaged and quite rightly – death hangs on his very coat tails. Detached Morgan circles the group, finding himself inextricably caught in their net without really feeling a serious kinship. He is enigmatic, acts as our eyes and ears on the boat and is, by default left somewhat of a question mark – I fancied him.

Women fall into two categories, which was the state of affairs in Edwardian England – mistresses or  a potential virginal wife. Aside from Wallis, who the men are drawn too thanks to an icy mask that quickly falls when contact is made with the iceberg, they are rather beige drinking cocktails and flirting coquettishly with the men. A rather beastly but strident character is Scurra. Arrogant and the embodiment of mystery he occupies many of those on-boards thoughts and preoccupations – especially Morgan who desires his approval.

The setting of the Titanic is largely peripheral but provides the perfect setting to demonstrate Edwardian society and class structure. Beryl weaves her storylines beautifully and her turn of phrase is subtle not in your face hysterical and her characters are already dealing with catastrophe the iceberg is just the tip.

Rating: 10 out of 10 – magnificent – already reserved a number of her other title at the Library.

Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death by Gyles Brandreth

3084081Title: Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death 

Author: Gyles Brandreth

Publisher: John Murray, Hachette 

Genre: Satirical crime thriller

Pages: 448 pages

Why I chose to read this book? Love the author he is a tour de force in the entertainment industry.

Where to read this book? Beaufort Bar in the Savoy London.

Refreshments: Dry gin martini with smoked salmon and caviar – anything you can put your hands on that nods to excess.

Review:

Featuring Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle, a parlour game of ‘Murder’ has lethal consequences ‘I see murder in this unhappy hand…’ When Mrs Robinson, palmist to the Prince of Wales, reads Oscar Wilde’s palm she cannot know what she has predicted. Nor can Oscar know what he has set in motion when, that same evening, he proposes a game of ‘Murder’ in which each of his Sunday Supper Club guests must write down those whom they would like to kill. For the fourteen ‘victims’ begin to die mysteriously, one by one, and in the order in which their names were drawn from the bag. With growing horror, Wilde and his confidantes Robert Sherard and Arthur Conan Doyle, realise that one of their guests that evening must be the murderer. In a race against time, Wilde will need all his powers of deduction and knowledge of human behaviour before he himself – the thirteenth name on the list – becomes the killer’s next victim.

The characters of this story are naturally well-known spanning Wilde, Conan Doyle and Walter Sickert however, I despised the character of Wilde he was arrogant, superior and overwhelmingly smug. The one I enjoyed the most was Sickert he was whimsical, innocent and enormously entertaining and throughout the narrative wandered in an out like a welcome friend. Equally notable is the gorgeously statuesque individual of boxer McMuirtree whose mysterious nature is improved substantially by his ability to mock whilst being completely charming.

Brandreth’s central crime is interesting but quite slow-moving and it is not until half-way through the book that we get to anything close to grit – and indeed it is only one murder that truly makes you rather uncomfortable as a reader. The depth of the psychology of the crime makes the story stronger but it does pootle along with Wilde at its core that does result in a certain blandness.

The style of writing is quite simplistic and, as I touched upon in an earlier post, it’s irritating that a number of the known characters are full-named repeatedly and for little reason for a good few chapters. However, dotted throughout the entire book is Gyles’ acerbic wit and devilish turn of phrase that provides the ingenuity and talent that we know and love Brandreth.

Overall, and loathe to admit it, I was slightly disappointed with the book. This may be partly because I am a Brandreth super fan and therefore had unreasonably high expectations however, it could also be that the narrative was on the side of, dare I say, dull.

Rating: 6 out of 10