“The Bottle Factory Outing” is a misleadingly jolly title for what is, for the most part, a very dark book. The lead characters are two women who share a bedsit and work at an Italian wine bottling plant. Both women are a bit odd and both carry vast amounts of emotional baggage. One is afraid to say what she thinks while the other is the complete opposite and I didn’t like either of them. Freda, the bossy one, organises an outing for the factory workers and to say that it doesn’t go at all well would be a huge understatement.
I have read other novels and stories by Beryl Bainbridge and so I am familiar with her “gritty” style but even by her standards, this is grim. It is, of course, fantastically well written and every bit as evocative as you would expect; as I read, I could see every detail of Brenda and Freda’s dreadful bed-sitting room, the drab factory environment where they worked and had I been in Windsor Great Park 40+ years ago, I am sure I could have located the exact spot where the picnic took place. However, I thought the plot was a bit thin and, in places, nothing short of ludicrous. Also, I found the characters difficult in this particular book. A lot of them were the sort of caricatures that Dickens would have been proud of (I don’t imagine our Beryl made any new fans among Irish or Italian people with this book) and none of them have any redeeming features at all. I was also disappointed by the ending; the story just sort of fizzled out. So this is, for my personal taste, a bit too depressing but it is a wonderful period piece all the same.