This was the first ever Beryl Bainbridge novel I have read. Gaskella’s Beryl Bainbridge reading week has given me a perfect excuse to read a new to me author. Sometimes when approaching a previously unread author’s work, I have some idea of what I might expect, with Beryl Bainbridge I had no preconceived idea at all. I found it quite exciting to come to something so completely new to me.
The Bottle Factory Outing is a difficult book to describe. It is a rather farcical black comedy – some of the story being almost unbelievable. Beryl Bainbridge’s writing though is excellent – and that she has managed to pack so much into a fairly slim volume is testament to this. I actually enjoyed it immensely and will I am sure read more of her work.
Brenda and Freda are work colleagues at an Italian bottling factory in London. They share a small bedsit – and indeed a bed, a bolster made of books separating them at night. Freda and Brenda are quite different characters, Brenda is less sure of herself than Freda, quieter, nervous, having run away from the country and her husband. Freda, a little younger is big, blowsy, loud and confrontational, has romantic aspirations of Vittorio, heir to the bottling factory. It is Freda then who conceives the plan for The Outing. The Outing looms large – there is a feeling of doom and a definite tension that haunts the beginning of the novel, the reader knows something will happen on that day – and of course something does.
“Mercifully it was not raining. There was even a faint gleam of wintry sunlight. Brenda wore a black woollen dress, black stockings and green court shoes. Freda had hidden the tweed coat the night before; she insisted she borrow her purple cloak. Brenda didn’t want to wear the cloak, but neither did she want to annoy Freda. Protesting, that it was too long, she draped it about her shoulders and looked down at the green shoes and an inch of stocking. Freda in a mauve trouser suit, a sheepskin coat gaily worked in blue thread down the front, and a lilac scarf casually knotted at the throat, wrapped two chickens in silver foil and placed them in the basket. There was a tablecloth embroidered in one corner with pink petals, a lettuce in a polythene bag, some French bread and two pounds of apples. In a small jar previously containing cocktail onions, she had poured a mixture of oil and lemon and crushed garlic.”
Beryl Bainbridge’s characterisation is brilliant – her characters are flawed – but real. The sense of time and place is wonderful –sad little bedsits, the cold bottling factory, the camaraderie of the Italian workers. The expectation of a day out in October, all wonderfully portrayed. I am so glad that the Beryl Bainbridge reading week gave me a nudge to read this surprising little novel.