Top critical review
Not Beryl's Best
on 3 November 2017
Beryl Bainbridge's 'Another Part of the Wood' takes place in an unusual kind of holiday camp in a wood in Wales which is run by George, a giant of man at six foot eight, and his assistant Balfour, a young man troubled with acne and a stammer and prone to strange fits. Into the wood and into one of the primitive holiday huts, arrives Joseph from London with his young son, Roland, his waif-like girlfriend Dotty, and an overweight adolescent with mental health problems named Kidney, who Joseph has taken under his wing. A self-absorbed and self-centred individual, Joseph is already regretting his decision to bring Dotty, with whom he has become bored, and he has also lost any real interest in Kidney; he wonders why he finds it difficult to like anyone for any length of time, let alone love them: "He wasn't sure if he was unable to love because he had no tenderness for himself or because he felt himself to be perfect and out of reach of compassion." Also arriving at the camp is Lionel (who had his buttocks shot off in Italy during WW2) and Lionel's wife, May, who dislikes her husband intensely - despite, or maybe because of, his slavish devotion to her. As Dotty despairs of her relationship with Joseph, and May feels tired and miserable after lying in bed for hours listening to her husband telling her erotic stories, Kidney takes Roland off on a trip up the mountainside - a trip that results in a tragedy that should make this unsympathetic group of characters realize that they are so consumed with their own preoccupations that they cannot see the wood for the trees.
This early novel by Beryl Bainbridge is a quirky, claustrophobic and uncomfortable story which is filled with mostly unsympathetic characters living dysfunctional lives and, as such, is one that, although sharply observed, deftly written and blackly comic in places, didn't make a very satisfying read for me - and the ending left me feeling deflated and unsettled. Beryl Bainbridge has a highly original style and she can certainly write, and there are novels of hers that I have found interesting and entertaining to read, but overall this particular title is not one that I can say I wholly enjoyed and most probably not one I would revisit any time soon.