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3.8 out of 5 stars
Every Man For Himself
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2004
Whilst I would only give five stars to a handfull of books that I've ever read, this one merits it.

About the Titanic with an ending that could never fail to surprise, it was a riveting read. Bainbridge got beneath the skin of the characters and one felt more present at the scene than watching any film. The remarkable thing about reading it, though, was how it reminded me of Oscar Wilde's works. There really is a quotation to take from every page.
As Hilary Mantel said in the Sunday Times " ... the cost of raising the Titanic is prohibitive: Bainbridge does the next best thing." And it's true! I'm not on commission, I just love the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Beryl Bainbridge has invented her own writing style - no one else writes with such wit and acuity or with such brevity, which is her watchword. Her elliptical style has an astringency and abruptness (as if she's saying sharply, "Wake up at the back there! I'm not going over this twice!") that makes her unique - if you didn't look at the cover you would still know you were reading a Beryl Bainbridge novel.

At her best she can't be beaten and with this novel we see her emphatically at her best (I would be hard-put to choose an all-time favourite between this and her novel about the Scott voyage to the North Pole, The Birthday Boys).

Tackling the sinking of the Titanic, Bainbridge doesn't hang about - it's more like an extremely bracing march to the park than a voyage across the Atlantic, and perhaps this can be said to be a fault - Beryl, if you're listening, take a breather now and again, please? Characters? Zap, zap, zap. Period detail likewise, and then she might linger over some tiny inconsequentiality (or is it?) while the story rattles along and the characters deepen (keep up at the back there!).

Then, before you know it, it's the denouement and shut the book. One is left gasping, applauding, longing for more, but Beryl's off to her next appointment, or just to dust the buffalo in the hall. The thrill of it is in the particulars - Every Man For Himself is about the sinking of the Titanic, Master Georgie is about the Boer War, An Awfully Big Adventure is about repertory theatre c. 1955. Beryl wears her learning very lightly, but there is perfect period detail, and perfect characterisation, wherever she decides to shine her light. She's been shortlisted for various prizes (three times for the Booker) and won the Whitbread twice and the Guardian Fiction prize once. She will go on winning prizes or getting shortlisted for them for as long as she writes because her pen is an instrument of true engagement, her characters live and her pace is unbeatable. She's the 100 metre sprinter of the literary world.

Sadly, as was reported on Radio 4 last year, Beryl has been unable to write since she gave up smoking. One hesitates to suggest she takes it up again if her health is at risk, but what a loss for readers if she doesn't!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This short, almost restrained, novel was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Whitbread Prize when published in 1996. It tells the story of Morgan, a relative of J.P. Morgan, who feels, "destined to be a participant rather than a spectator of singular events". When a man dies in his arms shortly before he is to return to the States, he leaves his uncle's house almost secretly (a stolen picture of his mother tucked away) and gets the milk train to Southampton. For the young man is surely about to participate in a major world event by boarding Titanic on her maiden voyage.

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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This novel is a masterpiece, and infinitely more rewarding than the film 'Titanic' with which it shares its subject matter. The fateful voyage is seen through the eyes of Morgan, a rich, young man related to the owner of the shipping line. Concentrating mainly on the first class passengers, to which set Morgan belongs, it paints a portrait of an insular group with an impressive array of vices. The title of the novel says it all - "Every man for himself" - and there is plenty of selfishness, silliness and snobbery on display here. However Morgan himself is basically a decent young chap, and does his best to look out for his friends as the disaster unfolds its course; will he manage to save himself too? This is not a long novel, nor does it need to be, as every word has its place.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Since you know what's going to happen to the Titanic it seems like madness to write a novel with this sort of backdrop. But Bainbridge is such a clever accomplished writer that she turns this inevitability very distinctly to her advantage. The story is magnetically dragged to it's conclusion by the ships date with destiny and along the way Bainbridge stimulates with writing that is perfection and characters that intrigue.
The pithy insights, the black humour and the spare but accurate descriptions fill her 'tardis' like writing. Bainbridge manages to convey in one sentence what it takes other writers several pages to achieve.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 1998
I found this book quite hard to get into - the characters were difficult to get to know and it has an odd structure because every reader will know what happens to the Titanic, so the end is hardly a surprise. However, once I got about half way into it I was totally engrossed. I just felt so shocked that these characters were going to be involved in such a horrible tragedy - the way Bainbridge paces the book towards its conclusion is really clever. It has all the subtlety and humanity that the film Titanic lacked, and without the mawkish sentimentality.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2007
Wonderful book, but don't go expecting a novel about the Titanic. Yes, of course the Titanic features, but it's there as a plot device to expose the attitudes and insecurities of the upper class on board. Just as the iceberg rips through the underside of the ship, so it also rips though the underbelly of society, and for the main character at least the sinking literally washes away the chains of his past. It's all here - repressed sex, unrepressed sex, class divides, the insecurities of the privileged who have never had to work for anything. A satisfying streak of black humour runs through it all too. It's not perfect - the characters of Melchett and Van Hopper for example are pretty interchangeable (maybe that's the point?), but the plot rattles along nicely, without any wasted passages.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 1999
I've read many books about the Titanic, seen all the films, but this is a really lovely treatment of the subject. Morgan is the sensitive young man Bainbridge follows round the ill-fated ship. He is full of woes and desires that have nothing to do with the tragedy that will soon bear down upon him. The same applies to all the colourful and vibrant characters we are introduced to. We should know their deaths are coming, but are shocked and appalled nevertheless when one by one we learn of their fate. I also love Bainbridge's way with language. Every so often she gives a word a new meaning by using it in an unusual context that seems perfect. Because it is so accessible, it is all to easy to miss the poetry within her prose.
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`Every Man for Himself', to summarise succinctly, is the tale of a young american man Morgan and the four fateful days that he sails on the Titanic. That simply is the story, right there.

Through Morgan's narration Bainbridge creates an interesting viewpoint of society at the time. Morgan in rich, not by birth through `family' rather a benefactor Uncle. He is seen as the nouveau riche which is a curse and a blessing amongst the richest of the rich who sailed onboard, for it was the ticket to have. He is idealistic though and so his sympathies lie with the lower classes on board and the staff, `the unfortunates'.

It's this mix of societies in such a small place which seems to be a perfect way for Beryl to make her viewpoints on the upper classes vs the lower. It weaves an interesting tension though means the cast of characters are rather dislikable.

As I have said its a book brimming with ideas yet one which doesn't have the fastest of pace, that's not a critique either. When reading this novel I pondered over its slow burning nature. I considered if maybe Beryl thought we knew what was coming for the Titanic, I won't say if Morgan survives or not so you read it, so the story meanders and builds. This of course means she can build the tension delicately leading to the inevitable conclusion. (I was shocked to see on Twitter some people had no idea it was real and thought it was `just a film', what?)

The tragic moment itself however does anything but dwindle. I found myself incredibly moved as Bainbridge writes the moment from the infamous iceberg until Titanic sinks. I was even routing for some of the most unpleasant characters and the extent of the tragedy and speed which it takes place, the change from `jolly japes' to panic, is vividly captured.

`Everyman For Himself' is a vey compelling, moving and cleverly constructed and crafted novel. The title seems obvious knowing the shortage of life boats but actually in the case of this novel I would say it is the general theme of the characters motivations in live whatever class, even Morgan as he watches them all on our behalf.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 1999
I found the early chapters of this book dull. I could not see the point of yet another book about that damn boat and was irritated by the author's apparent obsession with trivial boring toffs. This short novel is even padded out with lists of names of these dull people, even though most have no relevance to the rest of the book. BUT gradually Bainbridge drew me in, made me care more and long before the end I was engrossed. After I had finished I even cruised the Net for more biographical information on some of the real-life characters she had brought back to life with her beautiful prose. Her style of writing is easy to read and the book has many striking images. Even for a Titanicophobe like me who would support a ban on books and films on this overworked subject for the next millenium, it was an intersting and fairly enjoyable read.
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