27 March 2009

The bottlefactory outing - Beryl Bainbridge


I picked this book up at the library as it was on the Oberserver's list of 100 greatest novels of all time:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/oct/12/features.fictio


Needless to say, I knew very little of the book. In fact, the jacket sleeve had no summary. As I started reading, I at first thought it was a book about lesbians - ok, I thought to myself, it is on the list of all-time novels for its pro-gay rights stance. Written in the 1970s, at about the time of Harvey Milk and rise of gay rights, I thought I was on to something. But then the two "lesbians" - Freda and Brenda - end up having the hots for the suave Italian guys down at the wine bottling factory they work at. Wrong on the first count.

Next, I thought it was about worker's rights. Freda is a headstrong character and preaches to Brenda to stand up for herself. The bottle factory seemed like the ideal setting for a story of labour's deplorable situation. Then I realized, wait a minute, this story is set in the 1970s - preseumably by this time, labour had asserted istelf as a force to be reckoned with, especiall in England.

Throughout the beginnings of the storyline, Freda and Brenda discuss an "outing" that the factory will be taking - sort of like a field trip for adults. As it turns out, the field trip turns to disaster. What started out as a witty, comedic story of the dull life of provincial facotry workers, takes a morbid turn, leaving the reader wondering what the whole point was. A book that is hard to put down, not easily forgotten, but somehow, not overly memorable.

For a recommendation, I give this book a colour - and that colour is grey.

No matter how many times he took Mrs Freda into the woods she would not feel disgraced, she would be flattered. She would run wantonly from under the trees and tell the whole of Windsor Park how beautifully she had been dishonoured.

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