Cover image for An awfully big adventure
An awfully big adventure
Bainbridge, Beryl, 1932-2010.
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : HarperCollins Publishers, [1989]

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This provocative and compelling novel by one of Britian's leading writers tells the darkly humorous tale of Stella, a star-struck, teenaged actress caught in the backstage intrigue of a 1950s Liverpool theater repertory company. Stella romances the director of a production of Peter Pan with consequences that would be uproariously funny if they were not so dire. The play becomes a metaphor for the darker side of youth as Stella is drawn into very adult mayhem.

Author Notes

Beryl Bainbridge was born on November 21, 1934, in Liverpool, England. She became an actress at a young age and worked in English repertory theatres and on the radio. Her work contains dark, somber subject matter, deftly mixed with humor. Her writing acts as an outlet for her childhood frustrations, and frequently deals with family relations. In her novels, she recalls memories of disappointment and of a bad-tempered, brooding father.

During her lifetime, she wrote 18 novels including A Weekend with Claude, Another Part of the Wood, The Bottle Factory Outing, The Birthday Boys, According to Queeney, and Young Adolf. She adapted many of her novels, such as An Awfully Big Adventure, Sweet William, and The Dressmaker, for film. She has received numerous awards and honors including the Whitbread Award in 1977 for Injury Time and in 1996 for Every Man for Himself; the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1998 for Master Georgie; a Guardian Fiction Award, and the David Cohen Prize for Literature in 2003. She was made a dame by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000. She died from cancer on July 2, 2010 at the age of 77.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Incest on the level of a Sophoclean tragedy is the climax of Bainbridge's latest novel, but not before her story is first immersed in the dark humor of a struggling theatrical troupe in post-World War II England. Stella is the catalyst in this drama, and as a teenager she joins a repertory company right from school, where she has compiled a less-than-impressive record. But Stella has street smarts that she soon puts to use on the stage, for her goal is to work her way up the acting and social ladders by whatever means she can. Unfortunately, Stella also has to deal with her past, about which she is both ignorant and unconcerned; the adults, however, push Stella ahead both for her own good and for their own purposes. Gradually, Bainbridge's plot emerges from this moral morass in a manner that is somewhat dramatically contrived yet chillingly effective in its implications. ~--John Brosnahan

Publisher's Weekly Review

A Booker Prize nominee, Bainbridge's latest novel is a compelling read, again demonstrating her acuity of observation and darkly comic view of life. In Stella Bradshaw, a teenage aspiring actress from the slums of Liverpool, Bainbridge limns a tough but beguiling character. She also deftly conveys the atmosphere of 1950s England, still grimly bomb-cratered, coping with food rationing and the visible casualties of maimed veterans. Her portrait of a seedy repertory troupe, whose members histrionically indulge in love affairs and unrequited passions, is classic. Into this company, directed by elegant Meredith Potter, comes Stella, inveigled into their midst by her uncle/guardian, who feels that the stage is Stella's only alternative to working in Woolworth's. Added to her knowledge of her illigitimacy and lower-class origins (the Bradshaws bathe once a fortnight, and share ``the family towel''), Stella has the normal self-consciousness and naivete of adolescence overlaid by a strong will, guilelessness and lack of tact. Her innocent but dangerous impulses and her crush on Meredith, whose homosexuality eludes her, makes Stella a sort of Typhoid Mary of psychological injury; one after another, members of the troupe suffer from her impetuous behavior. Bainbridge's prose brims with pithy insights tinged with sardonic humor, and her plot moves swiftly to a chilling conclusion. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved