Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis from Amazon:

Joseph decides to take his mistress and son, together with a few friends, to stay in a cabin in deepest Wales for the weekend – with absolutely disastrous results. Beryl Bainbridge’s gift for deadpan dialogue and spare narrative, and her darkly comic vision of the world, are all in evidence in this early novel.

I read Another Part of the Wood because I’ve enjoyed other books by Beryl Bainbridge. It’s a novella, really, as it’s only 159 pages. I love her style, dark humour with clear, concise prose, and fully realised characters. It was her second book, first published in 1968. She revised the book and reissued it in 1979. My copy is a Fontana edition published in 1980. I read it at this time because it’s the novel that came up for me to read for the latest Classics Club Spin. It’s also one of my TBRs, a book that I’ve owned since 2016.

Like all of Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I’ve read it is well written and makes compulsive reading, with individual, mainly unlikable, characters who are mostly at odds with each other. I enjoyed the oddness, never really knowing what would happen next. The title has a theatrical feeling, pointing out the different scenes in the book as the action switches from one part of the wood to another, with one or more of the characters taking centre stage.

It’s set in Flintshire, Wales, in a holiday camp, which consists of huts in a wood at the foot of a mountain. There is George, the owner of the land, and Balfour who works in a factory during the week and helps him at the weekends. George, is obsessed with the Holocaust and Balfour, a shy, quiet man suffers from some sort of illness – he gets sick very suddenly with a high temperature and the shivers as though he’s turned to ice. All he can do is hide away and sleep it off.

The book begins as George’s friend, Joseph, a selfish, insensitive man, arrives for the weekend from London, with his young son, Roland, his girlfriend Dotty, and Kidney, a fat teenager who apparently has learning disabilities and a health problem (never explained), dependent on his pills. In addition Joseph has invited another couple to join them, Lionel and his wife, May, an unhappy couple with a dysfunctional and argumentative relationship. They are all townies, like fish out of water in the countryside and find the huts claustrophobic and too basic – May refuses to use either the chemical toilet or the bushes.

The atmosphere is tense right from the start and rises throughout the book as their relationships become increasingly fractious. Having promised Roland that he would take him for a walk up the mountain, Joseph leaves him to his own devices. He withholds Kidney’s pills and argues with Dotty. Dotty and Balfour walk off to the village where she buys a coat of many colours and Balfour falls ill. The wood, as in fairy tales, is not a safe place.

The world was a deep deceptive forest, full of promises and little glades and clearings, and in the dark depths roamed the wolves, savage, snapping their great teeth, waiting to spring on those who wandered from the path. (page 73)

There’s a sense of foreboding, the sense that something terrible is about to happen … but what, and who is in danger? I felt that more than one of these characters could come to a sticky end. And I was unsure, fearing the worst for one particular character – and sadly I was right. It was inevitable.

6 thoughts on “Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge

  1. I agree with you, Margaret, about Bainbridge’s characters. They are often unlikeable, but always compelling and fully fleshed out. You’re right, too, I think, about the dark wit in her work. It’s interesting that she seems not to have opted for longer novels; other Bainbridges that I’ve read are also short as these things go. It’s probably more effective that way!

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  2. Each of the books by her I’ve read are all around 200 pages, some a bit longer and some a bit shorter. And I’ve been satisfied with the length, although with this one I do wonder what would happen next. But as it stands it is complete as it is.

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  3. Thank you for reminding me of Beryl Bainbridge. This would have been a perfect book for Novellas in November, but I could not find it on my nextory app. But I found Master Georgi at 192 pages, so will listen to it. Unfortunately, only available as an audiobook.

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  4. Master Georgie was the first Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I read years ago, so I don’t remember much about it except that it’s set during the Crimean War. Anyway I enjoyed it enough to carry on reading her books. I hope you enjoy it.

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    1. I am listening too it, and so far so good. I think she wrote quite a lot of books, so there should be a treasure to find more of her excellent writing.

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