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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book review: Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

Master GeorgieMaster Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book of read by the famous Beryl Bainbridge. While I was impressed with this short historical novel, I did have some reservations and was somewhat surprised it was shortlisted for a Booker.

The story follows several people in the circle of the eponymous Master Georgie. Each gets to narrate for a short time and we learn the intricacies of this group of followers who adore the hero without really understanding him. Like many people who attract little coteries of admirers, Georgie is a charismatic, a bit mysterious, and takes his friends for granted. I found the interpersonal relationships between these people as they orbit Georgie desperate for his attention to be expertly drawn.

I would have liked the book to be longer, however. We don't get to know the characters as much as I'd like to, and we never get to know Georgie at all. While that's annoying with the other characters, in the case of Georgie that's not surprising. In real life, people like Georgie must keep a bit of distance to keep their sparkle.

I was also bothered by a series of anachronisms about early photography and period armaments. Unless you're a history buff you'll miss them, but those who do detect them will wonder why Bainbridge didn't do a bit more research.

Much of the plot takes place in England, but when Georgie volunteers as a doctor in the Crimean War, his gaggle of admirers come with him. As part of the army's retinue, we are treated to the real hardships of war--starvation, harsh elements, and homesickness. Bainbridge brilliantly writes off the war's most famous event with the lines,

"I am at least better off as far as transport is concerned; three days ago over two hundred cavalry horses of the Light Brigade stampeded into the camp, their riders having perished in a charge along the north valley. An auction was held, and I bought another mare so shocked by its recent subjection to bombardment as to have passed beyond nervousness into a state bordering on imbecility."

I found this book a compelling read but not good enough to merit five stars or a Booker shortlist.

View all my reviews

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