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.

WWW Wednesday: 26 October 2022

WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently I’m reading two books:

The Island by Victoria Hislop. I’d started reading this in the summer but put it on one side for a while. I’ve now picked it up again and am well into the story of the Petrakis’ family. All Alexis Fielding knows about her mother’s family is that Sophia grew up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. Eager to find out more she visits Plaka, a seaside village on Elounda Bay in eastern Crete which sits opposite Spinalonga Island, a former leper colony. There she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. It combines historical and romantic fiction.

I’m also reading The Night of the Mi’raj by Zoe Ferraris, crime fiction set in Saudi Arabia. Nouf ash-Shrawi, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a wealthy Saudi dynasty, has disappeared from her home in Jeddah just days before her arranged marriage, and when her battered body is found in the desert, it looks like she was murdered. But, for me, what is most fascinating in this book is the description of life in Saudi Arabia.

The last book I read is Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge, my book for the Classics Club Spin. I’ll post my review in the next few days – on or before 31 October. It’s set at a holiday camp in a forest in Flintshire, Wales, where Joseph takes his mistress and son, together with a few friends, to stay in a cabin for the weekend – with absolutely disastrous results. It has a claustrophobic atmosphere as the tension between the characters builds to a climax.

Next I’ll be reading The Darkness Manifesto: How light pollution threatens the ancient rhythms of life by Johan Eklöf, one of my NetGalley books, which will be published on 3rd November 2022. He ‘encourages us to appreciate natural darkness and its unique benefits. He also writes passionately about the domino effect of damage we inflict by keeping the lights on: insects failing to reproduce; birds blinded and bewildered; bats starving as they wait in vain for insects that only come out in the dark. And humans can find that our hormones, weight and mental well-being are all impacted.’ (extract from the synopsis)

Johan Eklöf, PhD, is a Swedish bat scientist and writer, most known for his work on microbat vision and more recently, light pollution. He lives in the west of Sweden, where he works as a conservationist and copywriter. The Darkness Manifesto is his first book to be translated into English.

Although this is a weekly meme l’m taking part once a month at the moment.