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An enjoyable novel with compelling protagonists
on 19 September 2011
It's 1968 and Rose and Harold are on a road trip across the States in search of the elusive Dr Wheeler, who has been both a friend of Harold's and a father figure for Rose back in England. "The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress" focuses on the relationship between these two characters, the humour of their interactions, but also the tension between them which becomes increasingly more disturbing as Harold's exasperation with his unwanted travelling companion grows.
It is the character of Rose which makes this novel so compelling: uneducated, childlike, and with a traumatic past, she has an effect (for good or for bad) on everyone she meets, somehow managing to be present at any number of dramatic, even history-defining, events. Rose is a destabilizing presence, for example when her ingenuous (or disingenuous?) comments derail conversations between Harold and his liberal friends, and the reader is never quite sure what she will do next.
I was apprehensive about this book as Beryl Bainbridge died during its writing, leaving it unfinished. However, although I would love to know what Bainbridge would have done with the novel had she lived, this is still an enjoyable, well-written, and haunting book in its own right. I closed the book feeling sad that this is the last work from such a talented and distinctive writer.