Talking to Beryl Bainbridge is like reading her books – what she says is constantly intelligent, truthful, strong. Her language and her ideas are her own. The things she takes for granted and the things she emphasises are often surprising. There is a plainness, a practical professionalism, and an absence of academic self-consciousness which are like breaths of good air.
She talked to me about the new novel, Another Part of the Wood, which is a revision of her second published novel of 1968, saying she had felt that there 'was a story' there, which needed 'getting out'. The sense of story and the sense of style are characteristic. About being a storyteller she is clear, enjoying the manipulation of the reader, the building of tension, the laying of false trails. The tension in this book starts early, and is highly disturbing. Little things go wrong all the time, and for everyone. A trip into the country, a friendly gathering in a camp in Flintshire, a weekend away for two couples, one married, one not, a country treat for a child of a broken marriage, an outing for a slightly retarded adolescent – everything promises well, is fuelled by a sort of sloppy goodwill, but goes sour and destructive.
We follow a track of tiny disappointments, tiny frustrations, tiny muddles. We are made to expect some kind of sexual atrocity, for the trail is laid with sexual suggestion. The little boy sees the retarded youth sitting on a latrine, shares a hut with him, wakes to find his face