Just going outside

D.J. Enright

  • The Birthday Boys by Beryl Bainbridge
    Duckworth, 189 pp, £12.99, December 1991, ISBN 0 7156 2378 8

Under her somewhat demotic exterior, Beryl Bainbridge is concerned (which hardly seems the right word) with myths. Her dealings with them, virtually invisible, are unportentous in the extreme, perhaps too unportentous for her own good – though not for theirs. They need invisibility, being commonly regarded as ancient prescriptions, commandments and warnings, bullying and surely obsolete, for leading our lives. Probably Bainbridge (how hard it is not to call her Beryl!) feels a nervous sympathy with a remark made by the producer of Peter Pan in her previous novel, An Awfully Big Adventure: ‘I don’t want any truck with symbolic interpretations.’ Characteristically, she doesn’t want to look serious, and people who don’t look serious tend not to be taken seriously. (She is generally praised for nippy evocations of milieu, including speech habits, and for her adept detail – things expected of any novelist; also for black comedy, as if these days comedy is likely to come anywhere near whiteness.) Such is our habit, understandable enough, more than usually pronounced in a smugly sceptical age, of discounting, of ‘cutting down to size’, even those who make no claims to any form of grandeur.

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