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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars well written and bleak, 30 Aug 2010
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This review is from: A Quiet Life (Paperback)
This is the first Beryl Bainbridge novel I have read. It was only because she recently died that I thought I would give it a go. The story is about a dysfunctional lower middle class family in the 1950s, told from the point of view of one of the children, who is caused to recollect his childhood by meeting his sister some years later. The prose is very spare, yet poetic and full of telling details. The book is short, at only 150-odd pages, but you don't get the feeling that it needed to be any longer, and it's the author's ability to compress emotions and let a few words paint a detailed picture that achieve this. The characters are all highly believable, from the manic, desperate father, to the depressed, desperate mother, but it is the two children that are most skilfully depicted. The narrative really focusses on the pain of living with unhappy parents, and the different strategies that the siblings have resorted to to try to survive. Molly, the independent-minded, yet troubled girl, is absent all the time. She can't stand to be around her parents, and you can't really blame her. To her mother, who plainly sees her as her younger self, she can do no wrong. For the repressed, anxious boy, who I think is called Richard (I forget), Molly is unforgivably absent, and her attempts to assert her individuality only add fuel to the fire of his parents' madness. It's a poignant question for children: to be or not to be. Is it better to try to play along with impossible, demanding parents, or do you have a duty to act as an individual? The two siblings play out these strategies, but the reader is left to form his own conclusion, which might be that it isn't really fair to force children to make these choices at all. In any case, I will be seeking out more work by this talented and perceptive author, and I recommend that other readers give it a try.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "On the occasions when he left his mother in a distressed state, he never won at ping pong.", 5 Sep 2011
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Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Quiet Life (Paperback)
Alan had never known it but meeting his sister again after so many years she'd informed him he had been a lonely child. He didn't quite know what to think because it was the first time anyone had said that. It wasn't how he remembered his life with mother and father and Madge, his sister, who was forever chasing the POWs and had almost gone back to Germany with one repatriated soldier. It was a terrible scandal at the time, except nobody knew about it. Scandals were like that in his family. There were plenty of them, but none that other people knew about. There was the way that his mother went to sit in the station waiting room, where there was a fire and she could read without being disturbed by father's moods and madness. He was convinced she had a fancy-man and roamed the town looking in the Hotel lounges, certain he would catch her out. Of course he never did, and even when Alan told him where she went he refused to believe it.

This is the story of Alan, his sister Madge, his girlfriend Janet Leyland and, most of all, his mother and his father. It's a wild and passionate story, all taking place in a little house in which the furniture takes pride of place and the people have to fit themselves in wherever they can. Again and again Bainbridge reminds us how small and poky terraced housing could be in the era just after the war:

"He went out into the hall to hang his coat over the banisters. He could hear his father muttering on the porch. He had to tread carefully. If he moved too boisterously he would catch the net curtains with his shoulder and tip the vase of cut flowers from the window-sill. The marble statue of Adam and Eve, recently brought down from the landing, was shaky on its pedestal. Even the row of decorative plates, painted with roses and hunting scenes might roll on their shelf above the door and bounce upon the red carpet. Madge said it was like walking through a minefield."

Life for Alan, even after he secures Janet Leyland for his girlfriend, is never secure. Meanwhile Madge gets away with much worse and Alan is always found wanting. This marvellous and deeply funny book wears a frown most of the time, but it disguises a wealth of dazzling middle-class eccentricity. Heart-felt, head-scratching, full of life and life's tribulations for one family just after the second world war.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short but sweet, 1 July 2013
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This review is from: A Quiet Life (VMC Book 135) (Kindle Edition)
A beautifully written account of life just after the 2nd world war. Sometimes funny but at times a very poignant observation of family life
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A Quiet Life (VMC Book 135)
A Quiet Life (VMC Book 135) by Beryl Bainbridge
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