The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

The Bottle Factory OutingIt’s Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, guys! Somehow, I haven’t actually read any more books by Beryl Bainbridge since the last week organised by Annabel – during which I read Injury TimeSweet William, and Something Happened Last Week, reviews of all of which you can find under my Bainbridge tag by clicking on the tag above or choosing ‘Bainbridge’ from the dropdown Browse menu. Well, I’m very glad that Annabel resurrected this reading week, as it has brought The Bottle Factory Outing (1974) to the top of my tbr pile – and it was everything I would expect from Beryl.

I actually read the whole thing on train journeys to and from London – i.e. it’s pretty short. And I even finally managed to stop calling it The Bottle Factory Opening in my head; it is, after all, focused on an outing rather than a grand opening. That is the main ‘event’ of the novel: all the workers at the bottle factory are going to go on a picnic, from the families of immigrants who put up with the low wages offered to the two women who are the focus of the novel, and who stick labels on wine bottles (while maintaining that all the wines are the same).

The Bottle Factory Outing would work very well with other novels I grouped back when I was doing Five From the Archive regularly (I must bring that back) and grouped together five excellent books about pairs of women. It’s chiefly about Freda and Brenda, who have a typically Bainbridgian dysfunctional relationship. They’re not quite friends – they moved in together after a moment of misunderstanding, and they’re not particularly compatible as housemates. Not even housemates: they share a bed, with a bolster and a line of books down the middle.

Freda is forthright and confident; Brenda is nervous and awkward. But nobody in a Beryl Bainbridge novel deals well with others (it seems) and she lends the same spikiness and discomfort to The Bottle Factory Outing that I’ve come to love elsewhere. There is affection and well-meaning alongside, but of the sort that cannot survive the awkwardness of everyday encounters.

Oh, and Beryl is funny. This awkwardness definitely permeates into both humour and unpleasantness. This paragraph combines the two…

She couldn’t think how to discourage him – she didn’t want to lose her job and she hated giving offence. He had a funny way of pinching her all over, as if she was a mattress whose stuffing needed distributing more evenly. She stood there wriggling, saying breathlessly ‘Please don’t, Rossi,’ but he tickled and she gave little smothered laughs and gasps that he took for encouragement.

‘You are a nice clean girl.’

‘Oh, thank you.’

It’s basically assault, of course, but the mattress comment is quintessential Bainbridge – a moment of levity thrown in that also illuminates the situation and gives a unique description.

And the outing? Well, it is not free from disaster. And it is the culmination of the different strands of the novel in a dramatic way that one feels Bainbridge has earned throughout; every moment leading up to it somehow both dramatic and mundane at once, wrapped together in her slightly distorted view of the world. She finds the bizarre amongst the ordinary, and somehow turns it back upon itself to seem ordinary too. It’s been great to get back to Beryl.

9 thoughts on “The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

  • June 13, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    Glad you enjoyed this one. It’s one of the best for me.

  • June 13, 2016 at 9:06 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this when I read it. It was my first Bainbridge. I read A Quiet Life – review tomorrow- not quite as compelling as this one for me , but still very good. I love her economy and observations.

  • June 15, 2016 at 5:28 am

    I’ve never read anything by Bainbridge but, from that quote alone, I think I really ought to give her a try. Anyone capable of such unique descriptions that should be sampled. I was reading Penelope Lively last week and her descriptions are, of course, entirely her own and they brought me up short more than once just by diverting from the expected phrases. Which tells me how lazily written the rest of the books I’ve been reading are…

  • June 20, 2016 at 8:35 am

    This is definitely one of the best I think (but I say that about all the ones I’ve read). Love your review – you’re always much more concise than me, and you’ve picked out different aspects of the novel, which is nice.

  • June 20, 2016 at 6:11 pm

    Such a cracking book, funny, disturbing and full of skewed and skewered characters. Bainbridge is probably my favourite new (to me) writer of the past decade.

  • June 21, 2016 at 10:41 am

    This is the first Bainbridge I read and I think it was such a lucky choice as it was so off-key funny and disturbing (as I see noted above – the perfect description). I have now collected a few more and really must get in to them, esp. given all the great reviews I read for this week.

  • June 21, 2016 at 11:49 am

    I read According To Queenie ( in which BB fictionalizes Samuel Jonhson’s last years, his pains, his last friendships, in a totally original way ) a few years ago and absolutely loved it.
    Claire says she read P. Lively last week but she unfortunately doesn’t say which title. I am currently reading Judgement Day and can’t resist offering you a few lines of it : ” She was paying him attention now. As much as the church furnishings. Almost. She doesn’t like me, George thought, she doesn’t like me and she doesn’t think I matter much. He was in a lather of emotion; resentment and obstinacy and a whole lot else. She had this horsy face and large teeth and long thin thighs and a very small behind. Not a pretty woman, oh no. ” These are the vicar’s thoughts about Clare, a new parishioner, an agnostic he feels threatened by…:-D

  • June 21, 2016 at 2:25 pm

    Sorry, a few lines from it…

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