Beryl Bainbridge’s new novel explores the nature of love and obsession as fosterchild Myrtle follows Master Georgie from the slums of nineteenth century Liverpool to the battlefields of the Crimea, where tragedy ensues.
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Bainbridge's narrative circles around the enigmatic figure of George Hardy, a surgeon, amateur photographer, alcoholic and repressed homosexual who counters the dissipation of his prosperous Liverpool life by heading for the Crimean Peninsula in 1854. His journey and subsequent tour of duty are told in three very different voices: Myrtle, an orphan whose lifelong loyalty to her "Master Georgie" becomes an overriding obsession; Pompey Jones, street urchin, fire-eater, photographer and George's sometime lover; and Dr. Potter, George's scholarly brother-in-law, whose retreat from the war's carnage and into books takes on a tinge of madness.
United by a sudden death in a Liverpool brothel in 1846, these characters plumb the curious workings of love, war, class and fate. In between, Bainbridge frames an unforgettable series of tableaux morts: a dying soldier, one lens of his glasses "fractured into a spider's web"; a decapitated leg, toes "poking through the shreds of a cavalry boot"; two dead men "on their knees, facing one another, propped up by the pat-a-cake thrust of their hands." Glimpsed as if sideways and then passed over in language that is as understated as it is lovely, these are images that sear into the brain. Master Georgie is full of such moments, horrors painted with an exquisite brush. --Mary Park --This text refers to the Paperback edition.