Narrated in the first person by a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl (whose name we never learn) 'Harriet Said...' is the gripping story of two sexually precocious teenagers, set shortly after the end of the Second World War. At the beginning of this unsettling tale, our narrator returns from boarding school to her quiet, very ordinary Merseyside home, where she waits impatiently to be reunited with her childhood friend Harriet, whom, we are led to believe, is the dominant partner of the two, and the instigator of past misdemeanours.
Both Harriet (the more confident, attractive and flirtatious of the two girls) and our narrator (a plump, pale-skinned, frizzy-haired girl) have already discovered their sexual power over men, and they have decided that this summer they intend to use this power to manipulate and humiliate a middle-aged unhappily married man, nicknamed the Tsar, who has shown that he is sexually attracted to our thirteen-year-old narrator. But who is ultimately more damaged as a result - the teenage girls or the middle-aged man?
Beryl Bainbridge's debut novel, which was first written in the 1950s but, due to its content, refused publication until 1972 (when it was acclaimed as a minor masterpiece), is a dark, horribly fascinating and deeply disconcerting story which left me thinking about the possible repercussions for some time after I had finished it. It would be interesting to discuss this story further, but as I cannot do so without spoiling the story for prospective readers, I won't say anything further - however I will just mention that I think most readers will be surprised or, perhaps, even rather shocked by the ending.