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The last vintage Bainbridge
on 26 May 2011
The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress is undoubtedly vintage Beryl Bainbridge. The story follows Rose and a man known as Washington Harold across America at a time of political turmoil. An odd couple, to say the least, Rose and Harold are drawn together in pursuit of the enigmatic Dr Wheeler; to Rose, he is a saviour figure who, it seems, saved her from her distinctly unpromising early years; for Harold, there is an altogether more sinister aim in finding Wheeler, involving his deceased wife and the possession of a gun. Rose is a classic Bainbridge heroine, harking back to the author's semi-autobiographical early novels. She can be naive yet gauche, full of wisdom yet unutterably bewildered by the simplest things and recounts half-told tales of a violent childhood, sexual misedemeanours and odd encounters that intrigue, baffle and ultimately infuriate her travelling companion. They travel uncomfortably across America, a seemingly odd choice of setting for Bainbridge, but their journey is packed with incident and populated by memorable characters along the way as the increasngly desperate Rose and Harold close in on Wheeler in Los Angeles.
The ending may not be completely finished as the author would have intended, but this does not matter. Bainbridge specialised in ambiguities and, of course, many of her novels told stories where the ending was already known, as, indeeed, does this. What you are left with is a beautifully written but utterly idiosyncratic novel that reminds you how much Beryl Bainbridge will be missed.