Maybe a British person can explain to me who Beryl Bainbridge is. I mean this in an earnest way because she’s unknown known quantity in my general understanding of British culture in the last 50 years. She was nominated for the Booker Prize five times and yet, no one seems to like her novels. This one has a shockingly low 2.77 on Goodreads. She’s been labeled as a “Greatest 50 since 1945” but hasn’t written a seminal work. And! All this should add up to my loving her work. I am kind of a brat about this kind of stuff….loving stuff other people don’t to try to be the right kind of rebel.
Anyway, I don’t hate this novel. I gave it a three. To finish my headline, it’s not a vile novel, but it is a rather unpleasant one. The narrator is omniscient so we get a pretty good sense of who hates who and what they hate them for as well as what they want and why they want it. So when one of the two main characters wants to sleep with the other (consent or not) we know it and what they think about what they think about it.
The story itself is about a young woman who comes to the US in the summer of 1968 from England to chase down a kind of enchanter/guru type character. She is looking for some kind of sense out of the world from him, and since she’s either not very bright or not very thoughtful we don’t get a lot of clear answers. She has been offered a ride from her landing point in Baltimore to wherever she can find this person with a creepy older man who plans on driving her around in a camper with suspicious sleeping arrangements, having what he felt was some unspoken agreement for paying her fare. The novel then becomes a travel narrative with a variety of weird conversations, social mishaps, and confused and hurt feelings.
The most interesting aspect of this novel to hear a somewhat clueless British teen weigh in on American racial and electoral politics from the 1960s. It’s kind of a charmless book, but not a boring one.