Saturday 18 June 2016

Every Man For Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

Every Man For Himself was one of those books that ticked many boxes for me.

It was my very first Bainbridge and I've been curious about her for quite some time now.

It also won the Whitbread (now the Costa Award) for 1996 and was shortlisted for the Booker (which I note was actually won by Graham Swift for Last Orders).

Furthermore it's a Titanic book, for which I have a bit of thing.

Every Man For Himself also allowed me to tick off another book for my #20booksofsummer (winter) challenge and join in Annabel's Beryl Bainbridge reading week.

I prefer Titanic stories that avoid romanticism and nostalgia. I prefer the curious but true, the psychology, or the everyday approach to this tragic human drama.

Every Man For Himself returned all of this in spades. Peopled by fictional characters who mixed with actual first class passengers and crew, Bainbridge explored the nature of class and courage and integrity, all mixed up with foolishness and snobbery and the mundane.

Mystery abounds, there are puzzling characters, snatches of overheard conversations, loads of drinking and buffoonery. Our narrator, Morgan spends a lot of time philosophising and pondering his future (even though the story is actually told from this future Morgan's perspective). He is insecure about his past, yet the hand of fate seems to play a big role in every thing that happens to him.

I wasn't sure how much I enjoyed this at first and puzzled over what star rating to give it on Goodreads.

Bainbridge provided sooooooo much foreshadowing that I nearly yelled out to her "enough already! I get it!" There was also a coolness in her writing style that kept me from engaging wholeheartedly.

However now that a couple of days have gone by, her attention to detail and startling descriptions keep popping into my mind. I also read somewhere that she suggested that her books should be read three times each. An artists conceit perhaps, but for an inveterate re-reader like myself, this was manna to my eyes.

I am now very curious to see what a re-read might reveal.

The other Titanic books that I've read and enjoyed are:

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer
Psalm at Journey's Ends by Eric Fosnes Hansen

You can also read the reports from the two enquiries at Titanic Inquiry Project.

Do you have any other Titanic suggestions for me?

P.S. I did not like the modern movie (too romantic and nostalgic), although I did find the information about how the ship split in two towards the end fascinating.



  1. Anonymous18/6/16

    I have this one to read. I've read two others by Bainbridge but haven't been that enamoured so I was hoping this would be the one novel that changed my opinion of her.

    1. Slow to warm has been my feelings with this one. My response to her, like her writing, has been towards the cool spectrum of emotions like respect, regard....I won't be rushing to read another BB unless I find one that caters to one of mine areas of interest like this one did.

  2. Hmmm...I already had her book, The Dressmaker on my TBR. I've added this one, too, more from curiosity than anything. Nice review!

  3. Anonymous19/6/16

    Thanks for the insights about BB....don't think she is my cup of tea.
    But I cannot be fair unless I at least try.
    Great review...

  4. Enjoyed your review - I have this somewhere in the TBR stash, but cannot find it. I got interested when the film Titanic came out I was working on the local paper in Lichfield, which has a statue of Titanic Captain John Smith, so I looked back through the old files, and did a bit of research for a feature. Surprisingly, the paper had a very detailed contemporaneous account of the disaster, and continued to follow the story for months afterwards, with information about the way cash was raised for the Smith statue, and comprehensive reports on the inquiry which followed. It was really gripping stuff, fascinating, but harrowing, with far more horror and emotional pull than any novel. If you're interested in Titanic, and ever get the chance to look at a contemporary account do give it a go.

  5. I've always loved BB because she's so odd and condensed in her writing. She doesn't write like anyone else at all and she does merit re-reading. Sometimes I go straight back to the beginning when I've finished her but I take your point about a certain coolness and distance. I think that is there as well.


This blog has now moved to Wordpress.
Please visit This Reading Life to comment.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.