Title: 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.
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.