Reviews Round-up

The critics’ verdicts on Beryl Bainbridge and Judy Golding.

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress by Beryl Bainbridge

The author's "final book, which was all but finished when she died of cancer in July last year," writes Paul Bailey in the Independent, "ranks among the finest of Bainbridge's fine works of fiction." Fittingly, he adds," The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress reads like a summation of Beryl Bainbridge's art," and as well as being "carefully constructed, as always," the novel gives the impression that "the author is returning to her roots, using the rich material of her early life in wartime Liverpool to devastating effect."

For Melvyn Bragg in the Guardian however it is the character of Rose that really makes the novel shine. "On the way to being one of Beryl Bainbridge's greatest creations," he notes, "she is given an internal life through sentences that are brilliantly elliptical and often very funny," and is central to this "superb and memorable work of fiction."

Mark Bostridge in the Financial Times is equally praiseworthy. Despite the fact that the author "struggled to write this, her final novel," he comments, "TheGirl in the Polka-dot Dress, Bainbridge's 18th work of fiction, emerges as a tour de force, well able to take its place alongside two other books that I judge to be her masterpieces."

The Children of Lovers: A Memoir of William Golding by his daughter

"Judy Golding is a sophisticated and self-conscious memoirist," writes Helen Taylor in the Independent, "flagging delicate evasions and yet having the courage to explore the cruelties, inconsistencies and conflicts within her father as they impacted on family life and her own psyche."

Claire Harman in the Scotsman also admires Judy Golding's ability to write about the complexities of the Golding family. "The result," Harman notes, "is a lyrical meditation on the history of her tight-lipped, clever family, her sad strivings to please and emulate her adored father and 'the many submerged rocks' in the choppy sea of their life together."

"Years in the writing," Kate Kellaway similarly comments in the Guardian, the book "is at pains not to rock the family boat unfairly," but despite this however, she adds, "the darker side of life tends to sidle up on this narrative."

Jane Shilling in the Telegraph, elucidating this bleaker aspect of the book, writes that novel's inside account of the Goldings, for all its interest, "is a moderate, rather restrained account of a relationship that was clearly at times exceptionally painful." She concludes "for both Judy and her brother, taking cover took at various times the extreme form of mental collapse; Judy recovered from a breakdown while she was a teenager, her brother's problems seem to have been more intractable."

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Tsipras' resignation has left Syriza in dire straits

Splinter group Popular Unity’s stated aim is to take Greece out of the deal Syriza struck with its creditors.

The resignation of Alexis Tsipras on 20 August was the start of a new chapter in the havoc affecting all sections of Greek political life. “We haven’t yet lived our best days,” the 41-year-old prime minister said as he stood down, though there is little cause for optimism.

Tsipras’s capitulation to the indebted state’s lenders by signing up to more austerity measures has split his party and demoralised further a people resigned to their fate.

Polls show that no party commands an absolute majority at present. It seems as though we are heading for years of grand coalitions made up of uneasy partnerships that can only hope to manage austerity, with little room for social reform. The main parties from across the political spectrum have lost legitimacy and the anti-austerity campaign is more marginal than ever. Many fear the rise of extremists, such as members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Thankfully, that is unlikely to happen: the party’s leadership is facing a number of grave accusations, including forming a criminal organisation, and its general secretary, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, is going out of his way to appear more moderate than ever.

It is to the left of Syriza that most activity is taking place. The former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis has defected to co-found a new party, Popular Unity (an ironic name in the circumstances), joined by MPs from the radical Left Platform and, according to the latest information, Zoi Konstantopoulou – the current speaker of the Hellenic
Parliament, who had considered starting her own party but lacked time and support in the run-up to the general election, scheduled for 20 September.

Popular Unity’s stated aim is to take Greece out of the deal struck with its creditors, to end austerity (even if that means leaving the euro) and to rebuild the country. It is likely that the party will work with the far-left coalition Antarsya, which campaigned hard to guarantee the Oxi referendum victory in July and increasingly looks like Syriza in 2009, when it won 4.6 per cent of the vote in the Greek legislative election under Tsipras.

Yet it is dispiriting that few on the left seem to understand that more splits, new parties and weak, opportunistic alliances will contribute to the weakening of parliamentary democracy. It is perhaps a sign that the idea of a left-wing government may become toxic for a generation after the six months that took the economy to the edge and failed to produce meaningful change.

Despite this fragmentation on the left, the largest right-wing opposition party, New Democracy, has been unable to force a surge in the polls. Its new leader, Vangelis Meimarakis, enjoys the respect of both the parliament and the public but has few committed supporters. The apolitical alliance To Potami (“the river”) appears to have stalled on 6-8 per cent, while the once-dominant Pasok is unlikely to enter parliament without forming a coalition on the centre left, postponing its predicted collapse for a few more years.

The winner amid all of this is apathy. Many believe that a large number of Greeks won’t vote in the September election – the fifth in six years (or the sixth, if you include the referendum in July). The situation in Greece should serve as an example of what could happen to democracies across Europe that lack political unity: parties with clear ideological positions end up serving as managers of diktats from Brussels, while more extreme forces become the de facto opposition. In this harsh climate, many citizens will either abandon their politicians or, in a bleaker scenario, reject the democratic system that elected them. 

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism