Van has finished reading… The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

21 Sep

bottle factory outing

Well, that didn’t end up where I thought it might! Freda and Brenda work in an Italian-owned wine factory. One pursuing and the other pursued, they each anticipate the Company outing with fear and excitement. A day out in the English countryside, in winter – what could possibly go wrong?

Of course the short answer to that is anything and everything from the hilarious to the excruciating, though I wouldn’t have expected the sinister to be on the list.

Published in 1974 which is I think, though I’m no political historian, just before the Government of the day took us into the EU, Beryl Bainbridge’s The Bottle Factory Outing throws up some interesting parallels as we prepare to exit the EU in the near future. The Italians are presented almost as caricature – the young desirable male, the grabby boss, the tea-leaf-reading old woman, the huddled mass of peasantry – which serves to highlight the depth of the two English women’s understanding of their colleagues. While it would be nice to think we’re beyond this in 2018 the sad fact is that I could well imagine such characters being contemporary, the only difference now being that such limited experience and understanding of ‘foreigns’ would likely pigeonhole social status and class more precisely.

 

The dialogue is bristling – if you’re not sure what I mean by that, try reading Brenda and Freda’s interactions through gritted teeth. It brings out the malevolence that is latent in each exchange. And the subtlety by which the author tweaks your understanding is sublime. I remember AL Kennedy, in her On Writing, talking about arguing the merits of a book as part of a judging panel because of the amount of work it takes to make a piece of writing appear so simple. Beryl Bainbridge’s The Bottle Factory Outing might well be a case in point. Brenda’s mirroring of Patrick’s vowels to underline her conciliatory nature, and the books down the middle of the bed – not that they’re uncomfortable but that Freda doesn’t understand the preference of their presence over intimacy because she’s never been married. Add to that the fact that neither Freda nor Brenda are particularly sympathetic characters, making it hard for the reader to feel especially sorry for their plight. The genius of this, of course, is that we can laugh at as well as with them and yet appreciate the enormity of events at the close from a cool distance, thus feeling its impact on all sides.

 

Beryl Bainbridge’s The Bottle Factory Outing is a short slice of brilliance. If you like your reading witty, your horror funny, or your humour pitch dark this is definitely the book for you. I’m surprised it hasn’t made it onto film yet!

 

The Bottle Factory Outing was originally published by Duckworth in 1974 ISBN:9780349123714

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