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on February 16, 2016
Beryl Bainbridge is a very black writer, and this novel (filmed with Alan Rickman, and Hugh Grant and Peter Firth both playing brilliantly against type) is a very black, sad, funny and wonderful book. It's longtime favourite of mine, but I will acknowledge that it won't be everyone's cup of tea. The writing is taut and incisive, the story is gripping and the characters are flawed and larger than life.
1 helpful vote
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on September 6, 2016
Set in the small confines of a theater company, the plot evolves with wit and style, while making a statement about the human condition. Terrific.
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on February 28, 2000
Very honestly, I only read the book because the movie had struck me with its great directing, talented acting and a terrific unusual plot, and I must say I am not at all sorry I did so. I found the book refreshing and incredibly well-written.
An elaborate variation on Barrie's children's book in a grown-up-too-soon world, the novel combines with seeming effortlessness the youth's innocence and the wisdom and power of love of experience.
A young girl, accepted into the theatrical troupe of a small English town, finds herself enamoured of the stern mysterious director, unaware of the fact that his affections lie in the direction of his own sex and whose major characteristic is making everyone around him as miserable as he feels, trapped in unrequited love. She is indifferent to a great actor, who returns to his home town after becoming world-renowned and who, despite the great difference in their age, feels very close to her. She leaves him only to lead his investigation of her prior life to a tragic secret...
Read the book. You'll be surprised and, as variations on children's books are supposed to do, it'll make you older...
14 helpful votes
15 helpful votes
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on April 26, 2007
Addled teen girl stirs up trouble at a theater in post-war England.

I've read half a dozen of Bainbridge's novels now. I've enjoyed them all to one degree or another, but this is the one I liked best. She touches greatness with this book; maybe because she drew on her own experiences. Wickedly...funny...I guess...although "funny" isn't really the right word. I don't think the English language has a word to describe the essential nature of Bainbridge's writing. She nudges you in the ribs throughout, only she uses a large kitchen knife to do the nudging, and she snaps it off at the hilt on the last page. Her books leave me torn between relief that the tension is finally broken and remorse that...um...the tension is finally broken.

Whatever this style of fiction is, if you like deeply ironic stories that keep giving you "Aha! So that's what she meant!" moments for days or weeks after you finish them, then you'll probably like this book.

On the other hand, this book is extremely confusing on a first read, for a couple of reasons. To describe one reason would be to reveal a spoiler, so I'll stay mum. Another reason is that characters are thrown into the story as if you already know who they are. It's a bit like tuning into a movie that's already half over. If you don't like that, you'll probably hate this book. A page-turner, in the sense of the typical easily-digested bestseller, it's not. This is genuine literature.

Incidentally, if you haven't read the book, and you think you know what the title means, let me assure you that you couldn't possibly be more wrong.
3 helpful votes
4 helpful votes
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on January 23, 2002
This spare little (205 pages) novel doesn't waste a word, yet signifies volumes. The highly honored Ms. Bainbridge, winner of the prestigious Whitbread Prize and short-listed (six times!) for the Booker Prize amply displays what all the fuss is about. She is that good.
The book is hard to categorize. It isn't a coming-of-age, a psychological thriller, a dazzling Peter Pan parable; it is all these things and more.
Stella raised in blue-collar, post WWII Liverpool is a troubled and troubling 15-year old who determinedly washed out of school and has been fixed up as a "student" (read gofer) at a provincial repertory company. She has no particular acting ambitions, but is certain she would be very good at it. We get a many-sided view of Stella; as she sees herself and as she is perceived by the people around her. Every scene and every word of dialogue interlocks like a jeweled timepiece. The reader is almost unaware of the ever-increasing momentum until it crashes upon you in a chilling finale. You think Ms. Bainbridge is through with you, but not quite. Just when you think you are utterly and completely emotionally drained, Ms. Bainbridge delivers a final twist, and now you know you are. I was left stunned.
An excellent example of fine prose. Highly recommended.
12 helpful votes
13 helpful votes
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on January 24, 2013
The Good Companions is a lovely, warm, fuzzy, well written book (a favourite of mine) about the trials, tribulations, triumphs and tragedies of a small travelling music hall company in the 1920s

Jump forwards 30 years to the setting of Bainbridge's book about the trials, tribulations, triumphs (very few) and tragedies (quite a lot) of a Liverpool repertory company. Originally published in 1989, Bainbridge draws upon some of her own experiences as an actor around that time.

Gone is Priestley's enjoyable, rather sentimental approach. Instead, we have a blackly, bleakly funny and unholy mixture of sex, love, death and religion, all wrapped up in an atmosphere of lower middle-class prurience and and things which are not quite nice and musn't be mentioned (Orton's territory)

This is the story of Stella, an awkward, difficult, naive and impressionable mid-teens. She is also adept at wearing a don't tangle with me mask, making her appear much more hard-boiled and insensitive than she really is. Strings are pulled to get her a job as an ASM in the rep company, as her imaginative, rather histrionic abilities at play-acting her way through her life, suggest to those around her that she may have a theatrical gift.

Bainbridge structures her book beautifully, setting something up at the start, which is only finally revealed at the end, when she collapses, one by one, her house of cards, with a selection of hinted at revelations which are simultaneously as bleak, horribly funny, and shocking as Orton. There is as much going on here as there are in some of the major themes of Greek tragedy, except Bainbridge does the great trick of wrapping the tragedy with absurd, comedic touches.

I'm working through re-reading Bainbridge, following my reading of the wonderful Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend which connects her life, her writing and her art, and this was a wonderful re-read.
1 helpful vote
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on August 17, 2000
"An Awfully Big Adventure" was a sheer pleasure to read. With her ability to make mundane life seem utterly unique and interesting, Bainbridge creates characters that no reader could soon forget. Stella, a young girl with her head-in-the-clouds who experiences the usual coming-of-age in a not so usual way; Meredith, the homosexual director with many skeletons in his closet and a lust for power over men; and O' Hara, a man who yearns for the past and finds it in a devestating way. With such a title, one would not expect such serious subjects as blackmail, incest, and adultery, but treated so subtlely, it is reminiscent of the play within the novel "Peter Pan", about the truths of growing up, whether you desire it or not.
7 helpful votes
8 helpful votes
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on January 30, 2002
Fair warning: Do not start reading *An Awfully Big Adventure* on a day when you've got a lot to do, because you will not be able to put this book down for even a second. This story of a 1950's theatre company centers on Stella, a 16-year-old stagehand who becomes involved, directly and indirectly, in the human drama that goes on behind the scenes of a production of *Peter Pan*. Her hopeless crush on the play's director leads her into all kinds of scandal, including an affair with another member of the company. This book is written in a witty style, and it really is hilarious, but many of the themes and events in the book are deeply disturbing, which makes for a very satisfying black comedy. If you don't enjoy dark humor, you'll probably hate this-- otherwise, you should totally read it. It's one of the most entertaining books I've read in ages.
8 helpful votes
9 helpful votes
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on December 9, 2001
This is a phenomenal book- but it is crucial to approach it with the right mindset. This is not a light comedy, or a fantasy about the joys and agonies of growing up. The laughs to be found here are dark, and the story is painful and disturbing. It is also deeply powerful and moving, full of richly created characters and brilliantly subtle parrallels to J.M. Barrie's classic play, "Peter Pan." Do not open this one expecting anything easy, but do expect to be moved if you are willing to lose yourself inside. Highest possible recommendation.
7 helpful votes
8 helpful votes
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on October 15, 1997
I'm kind of a stagestruck person, so I wanted to read this book because it was about a second-rate English repertory theater company in the nineteen-forties (or was it the thirties?). I hadn't read anything by Beryl Bainbridge but I deduced from the copy about her in the book and on the cover that she is a serious novelist. There are so many amusing turns of phrase in this book, possibly because many of the characters are so pretentious and they would want to express themselves in colorful and arch ways. I would recommend this book to anyone who is tickled by Anita Brookner's prose stylings, only Bainbridge has a much broader range of subjects, characters and time periods for her novels.
7 helpful votes
8 helpful votes
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