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Every Man for Himself (Bainbridge, Beryl) Hardcover – October 9, 1996
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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After taking on the ill-fated Scott expedition to the South Pole in her previous book, The Birthday Boys, the novelist tackles a much larger 1912 disaster: the sinking of the Titanic. The narrator, a 22-year-old named Morgan, brushes up against real-life victims such as John James Astor early in the voyage, while falling in love with the beautiful and unobtainable Wallis Ellery. The deadly maiden voyage of the world's largest ocean liner becomes a journey of self-discovery in this portentous, postmodern work, shortlisted for the 1996 Booker Prize.
From Publishers Weekly
Bainbridge, whose The Birthday Boys was an unforgettable rendition of Scott's fatal Antarctic expedition, has turned to another Edwardian tragedy for her new novel: the sinking of the Titanic. As Bainbridge admirers might expect, it is not the kind of version that would make a spectacular movie; rather, it is a meticulously observed account that almost offhandedly convinces the reader that this is exactly what it must have been like aboard the doomed liner. The story is told by a wealthy young American man-about-town, an adopted nephew of J. Pierpont Morgan, who in search of something to do has had a slight hand in the ship's design ("the specifications of bathtubs"). Once aboard, he drinks too much with his layabout friends; sees people like the Astors and Strauses; becomes infatuated with a girl who in turn falls for a mysterious and cynical stranger; and gets to know a young Jewish dress designer who is hoping to become a hit in New York. In a few deft strokes Bainbridge shows the gulf between the steerage passengers and the "nobs" while communicating the alternating servility and resentment of the crew. The book is nearly over before disaster strikes, but once again, the unnerving details seem just right: the careless self-confidence at the beginning, the gallantry quickly eroding to panic. Bainbridge's swift, economical novels tell us more about an era and the ways in which its people inhabit it than volumes of social history.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Although we are soon aware that Morgan is not quite the same as his upper class friends, he fits seamlessly into first class. His family background is slightly troubled, unknown, but then other passengers have their secrets too. What is interesting about this novel is the way Bainbridge shows how all these people are almost trapped together - a large, unhappy family. They travel to the same places, went to the same schools, shared social lives and even mistresses. The novel cleverly tells the story of life aboard, with all the little intrigues, love affairs and gossip. The author uses many real life characters - Lady Duff Gordon, Thomas Andrews, Bruce Ismay and Astor populate the pages, but as we know what is coming that overshadows everything that happens. This really is a clever read, which recreates life on board and the pressure these young men were under when calamity happened to be brave and not get in a 'funk'; when to be a man was to feel shame at surviving.
"Every Man For Himself", takes place in virtually the same time frame as, "The Birthday Boys". The latter work was excellent in telling a story that became a metaphor for the time and its philosophies, the former does this again in a confined setting, and for this reader it was less interesting. Blind faith to the point of negligence in Technology of the unsinkable ship, and a list of passengers that would rate the top tier of Fortune's wealthiest certainly make for an interesting cast. However unlike the Scott work which spread itself across a wide range of people, this was more narrowly confined to the wealthiest cast, and finding empathy for these incredibly rich and generally pompous caricatures is hard. Our guide through most of the book is a member of The Morgan Clan, and even though his relation is tenuous his wealth makes him as boring as the rest.
The Author did introduce an event that was new to me, and even if it is not historically accurate (I don't know) it did make the story much more intriguing. If that plot line had been the main thread instead of more traditional love interests, and the preoccupation with scoring off of others to their detriment I think I would have enjoyed the work more.