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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"The Anatolian Fertility Goddess": a poem by Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Across the Golden Horn in Karakoy. . . 

Across the Golden Horn in Karakoy,
a maze of ancient, crooked, cobbled streets
contains the brothels of old Istanbul.
A vendor at the bottom of the hill
sells macho-hot green chilli sandwiches.
A cudgel-wielding policeman guards the gate.
 
One year, dressed as a man, I went inside
(women and drunks are not allowed in there).
I mingled with the mass of customers,
in shirt, grey trousers, heavy walking boots.
A thick tweed jacket flattened out my breasts.
A khaki forage cap concealed my hair.
 
The night was young, the queues at doors were short.
Far down the street a crowd of men stood round
and watched a woman dancing in a house.
Her sixty, sixty, sixty figure poured inside
a flesh-tone, skin-tight, Lycra leotard,
quivered like milk-jelly on a shaken plate.
 
I’ve seen her type before in small museums –
primeval blobs of roughly sculpted stone –
the earliest form of goddess known to man.


Fiona Pitt-Kethley is a British poet, novelist and journalist living in Spain. Her Selected Poems was published in 2008 by Salt.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad