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Book Name: Master Georgie

Author: Beryl Bainbridge

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Overall Rating: (3.67/5) View all reviews (total 9 reviews)

Beryl Bainbridge seems drawn to disaster. First she tackled the unfortunate Scott expedition to the South Pole inThe Birthday Boys; later (but emphatically pre-DiCaprio) came the sinking of the Titanic, inEvery Man for Himself. Now, in her 3rd historical novel (and her 16th overall), she takes on the Crimean War, and the result is a slim, gripping volume with all of the doomed intensity of the Light Brigade's charge--but, thankfully, without the Tennysonian bombast. "Some pictures," a character confides, "would only cause alarm to ordinary folk." There's a warning concealed here, and one that easily disturbed readers would do well to heed:Master Georgieis intense, disturbing, revelatory--and not always pretty to look at.Bainbridge's narrative circles round the enigmatic figure of George Hardy, a surgeon, amateur photographer, alcoholic, and repressed homosexual who counters the dissipation of his prosperous Liverpool life by heading for the Crimean Peninsula in 1854. His journey and subsequent tour of duty are told in three very different voices: Myrtle, an orphan whose lifelong loyalty to her "Master Georgie" becomes an overriding obsession; Pompey Jones, street urchin, fire-eater, photographer, and George's sometime lover; and Dr. Potter, George's scholarly brother-in-law, whose retreat from the war's carnage and into books takes on a tinge of madness.United by a sudden death in a Liverpool brothel in 1846, these characters plumb the curious workings of love, war, class, and fate. In between, Bainbridge frames an unforgettable series oftableaux morts: a dying soldier, one lens of his glasses "fractured into a spider's web"; a decapitated leg, toes "poking through the shreds of a cavalry boot"; two dead men "on their knees, facing one another, propped up by the pat-a-cake thrust of their hands." Glimpsed as if sidewise and then passed over in language that is as understated as it is lovely, these are images that sear into the brain.Master Georgieis full of such moments, horrors painted with an exquisite brush.--Mary Park--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Historical fiction

by Britt Arnhild Lindland

Master Georgie is a novel set in the time of the Crimean War. Through the eyes of three people close to Master Georgie, Myrtle, a girl believed to be Georgie's sister, Dr. Potter, a geologist and Pompey Jones, the photography assistant, we follow him from Liverpool to the battlefield of the Crimean War.This way to write about a person and his happenings is well known through Ian Pears An Instance of the Fingerpost. And can be a perfect way to keep the readers interest and also the readers capability to live with the story. But Beryl Bainbridge do not master this art in this book. The language is too flat, without feelings, and the plots are sometimes too cryptical to be understood. I had to read several parts more than once to be able to understand what it all really was about, and to understand which lenses where used.Still the book has some good parts, among them are the battlefield scenes. And I also like the way Bainbridge use the meaning of the photography, to let us see snapshots of Master Georgie's life, using other people as lenses, as cameras.The book is a short one, less than 200 pages, and the surprising ending helps to give meaning to the story.Britt Arnhild Lindland

An historic novel of personal proportions

by C. B Collins Jr.

Historic fiction requires exceptional skills to capture character as well as time and place. Beryl Bainbridge's Master Georgie certainly excels in this regard, reminding me of the skills of Hilary Mantel. The plight of a Crimean War surgeon comes alive in all its gore and misery and insanity. The tale is told through the eyes of the surgeon's brother-in-law, his off and on boyfriend and photographic assistant, and Myrtle, an orphan informally adopted by the family and mother of his children. The Crimean War offers a backdrop of incompetent diplomatic and military leadership dissolving into a nightmare of gore, horror, disease, dysentery, crime, and cruelty. Bainbridge captures the disorganized international disaster with many horrible bloody details, having her characters do the best they can to survive the catastrophe. Yet, Bainbridge captures more than just history, time, place, and character for her writing is poetic and her attention to detail is superb. Early in the novel, Myrtle cleans the dog hair off of a tiger skin rug and as she pulls the white dog hairs from the brush, they float like dandelion seed up the wind-draft of the staircase and nestle on the chandelier. It is such details that make the book beautiful and horrible at the same time. The pace of the book is excellent and she moves the reader from critical chapter to chapter in the lives of the main characters. I almost think she wrote too little in this book. I would have loved to have the book twice as long. The character of Pompey Jones, the bisexual street urchin, is fascinating and I wish Bainbridge had written a novel just for this self-aware, self-assured, character to follow Master Georgie. Bainbridge actually focuses much of the novel on the character of Myrtle, and we learn as much about her amazing strength of character as we do about that of her sometime lover George Hardy. Myrtle and Pompey are both orphans, street wise, highly intelligent, and are recognized for their strengths by the Hardy family.George Hardy is never fully explained and made visible to the viewer for his motives are somewhat hidden. As a homosexual or bisexual physician from an upper class home, it appears that his service in the Crimean is somewhat of a penance, a sacrifice, for his sexuality. He strives to be the perfect son to his father, mother, and siblings, yet the secret of his sexuality means that a critical part of him must be hidden from his family. George Hardy appears to sacrifice himself during the Crimean War due to his sexual orientation over which he has no control. In some ways this is also a study of gay guilt in the Victorian period and the mechanisms and strategies undertaken to atone for an unacceptable sexual orientation. George is contrasted with Pompey who seems much more at home with his bisexuality, recognizing it as more a part of himself and as an asset by which he can manipulate both men and women. The narrative of war is haunting, reminding me of the outstanding novels of Pat Barker about World War I. We read of handsome shirtless soldiers dying from eating unwashed cherries or horses bleeding to death while standing with bullet holes through their body. It is the third narrator, Dr. Potter, George's brother-in-law that offers unique looks at all the other characters. Potter is intellectual and foolish at the same time. He lacks practicality but his power of observation is evident. Overall the book is excellent, a post-modern masterpiece, telling a complex tale from multiple points of view but never giving the `definitive' story behind the story.

My first time with Bainbridge - and I'm intrigued.

by Darren in Kansas City "Darren in Kansas City"

I'd heard so much about Bainbridge...how she has been nominated (and overlooked) for the Booker five times...how her short novels are beloved by a cultish following. So I grabbed Master Georgie while on a business trip and buried myself in its atmosphere. I don't think I've read anyone like her. One of the reviewers here compared the experience to browsing through a collection of photos, and that is true. Somewhat frustrating, though, is that - as with aged photographs - you never quite get the feeling that you know these characters or have their full stories. Maybe if Beryl Bainbridge were sitting alongside me to fill in the gaps. Nevertheless, I'm ready to plunge into another Bainbridge and am curious to know if anyone else has favorites.

A Sisappointment

by Discerning Reader

The news of the death of Beryl Bainbridge last year made me want to read books by a very accomplished writer. In our book club we chose to read Master Georgie.This was a great disappointment. We should have asked for advice on what books to read. The book was nominated for the Booker prize in 1998, but did not win the award.While there is an interesting historical episode as the background, and there were different viewpoints, the reader never feels that this is a book that must be read. At times it seemed disjointed. There were narratives from different characters, but that style did not feel the gaps. Different narratives normally means the reader gets an insight into an event from different perspectives. This did not happen.So need to read other books to appreciate the greatness of Beryl Bainbridge

An engrossing novel about love and war

by gac1003 "gac1003"

Geroge Hardy, a surgeon and amateur photographer, discovers his father dead in the bed of another woman and hastens to bring the body home before his mother learns of it. Three people help with this task, and their lives are irrevocaly changed because of it.The story is told through the eyes of those three people close to Master Georige. The first is Myrtle, a young orphan who is accepted and raised by the Hardy family. She immediately falls in love with Georgie, a love that will carry her from the streets of Liverpool to the battlefields of the Crimean War. Next is Pompey Jones, a young street boy who helps move the body of George's father and then discovers George's passion for young men. The last is Dr. Potter, a family friend who follows George all the way to the Battle of Inkermann, never understanding George's aversion to women or why he wants to attach himself to a unit during the awful war. Through their eyes, we watch George change from a young doctor in England dealing with his father's troublesome death to the hardened field doctor trying to save lives during a time of war.This is a fantastic historical novel, with some of the most descriptive war scenes I've read in quite some time. Bainbridge makes you feel the confusion, fear and dread that the soldiers faced both due to battle and due to disease. At the same time, she shows how one life can effect others, either for better or for worse. A highly engrossing novel.

Masterful Writing

by Lynn Adler

A masterful evocation of a time and a war that took place 150 years ago and life's little ironies that brought these characters together in the first place to determine their fate.

Crime of Crimea

by Mr. K. Mahoney "Kevin Mahoney"

At first, I was going to tick Beryl Bainbridge off for writing too well, too literary. I thought it nonsense that an illiterate girl in nineteenth century Liverpool could never write such exquisite prose as evidenced in this novel, and that this was a case of the authorial voice being too strong. As it happened, I couldn't have been more wrong. This novel is narrated by the close acquaintances of 'Master Georgie' (although some are closer than others), starting with the illiterate Myrtle. Immediately we are drawn into the action, as this sequence of a photograph being taken will resound throughout the novel. 'Master Georgie' is incredibly subtle, and it is only by looking back over it that you begin to appreciate that this is the most suitable of beginnings. Here is where Myrtle begins on her road to becoming a lady. And what an unsavory road it is, as Myrtle's help is initially required to cover up the manner in which George Hardy's father has died, and leads to the bloody battlefields of the Crimea. Also assisting with the cover-up is the duck-boy and street urchin, Pompey Jones and the pompous Dr. Potter, whose narrations are by far the best. George Hardy himself is an ambiguous figure, seen only through the eyes of others. It may be a fault that we never really get to know him. This is a novel of cameras, carnality, and carnage. The dreadful shadow of history is cast upon it, with the famous charge of the Light Brigade lightly alluded to. One almost expects to run into a lady with a lamp at every corner, but fortunately, Bainbridge avoids this excess. She takes events frozen in time, such as the front cover's photograph, and brings them into life and death, and maybe even beyond. The camera never lies... Or does it? Bainbridge fervently burrows into the psyche of characters, enabling them to bring about apparitions vivid enough to be captured by film. In my mind's eye, I see Bainbridge pouring over ancient photographs from the Crimea, trying to put names to faces and to see if she could walk around in their bloody shoes. She succeeds. If I'd have been on 1998's Booker panel, I know I would have placed Bainbridge before McEwan. And the reason wouldn't have the desire to give her a consolatory, but demeaning, long service award. In this instance, 'Master Georgie' speaks for itself.

Complex, moving, finely crafted

by Philip Spires "Author of two African novels s...

At first glance Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge suggests it might be quite a light book, an easy read, a period piece set in the mid-nineteenth century. This would be wrong. Master Georgie is no safe tale of country house manners, of marriages imagined by confined, embroidering young women. Beryl Bainbridge's Master Georgie is anything but a tale of such saccharine gentility.Master Georgie is a surgeon and photographer, and the book is cast in six plates - photographic plates, not chapters. Death figures throughout. From start to finish morbidity crashes into the lives of the book's characters. We begin with Mr Moody, dead in a brothel bed, his host of minutes before in shock. Later we move to the Crimean War, where the carnage is graphic, extensive and apparently random. And even then individuals find their own personal ways of adding insult and injury to the suffering.The book uses multiple points of view. We see things Master Georgie's way. Myrtle, an orphan he takes in, adds her perspective. The fussy geologist, Dr Potter, imprints his own version of reality. And still there are less than explained undercurrents, undeclared motives which affect them all. Thus, overall, Master Georgie is a complex and ambitious novel. Though it is set in a major war, the backdrop is never allowed to dominate. The characters experience the consequences of conflict and register their reactions, but we are never led by the nose trough the history or the geography of the setting.But we also never really get to know these people. Myrtle, perhaps, has the strongest presence. She has a slightly jaundiced, certainly pragmatic approach to life. But even she finds the privations of wartime tough. Why the characters of Master Georgie are all so keen to offer themselves as support for the war effort is an aspect of the book that never fully revealed itself. And ultimately this was my criticism of Beryl Bainbridge's book. While the overall experience was both rewarding and not a little shocking, I found there was insufficient delineation between the characters and their differing motives. The beauty of the prose, however, more than made up for any shortcoming. The language created the mixed world of mid-nineteenth century politeness and juxtaposed this with the visceral vulgarities of soldiering and the general struggle of life. This rendered Master Georgie a complex, moving and quite beautiful book.


by Sesho

The back cover of this book praises Beryl Bainbridge for her "deadpan prose" and her "emotionless sentences". It's ironic how attibutes like these can possibly be descriptions of a good writer. It is these very faults that bring about the ruin of MASTER GEORGIE.The novel spans the years 1846-1854. Master Georgie, or George Hardy, is the young son of a rich Liverpool merchant. He is a shadow figure in the sense that he never takes over the narration of the story. That is left up to three other characters. One of these is Myrtle, an orphan who was taken in by the Hardys as a child and is deeply in love with George. She follows him in his restless wanderings of Liverpool. One night, in a sordid episode they find George's father dead in the bed of a prostitute. Along with another character who does narration, Pompey Jones (a street hustler), they are able to cover up the scandal that would have hurt and tarnished his family. The three characters are bonded by this secret for the rest of their lives, and as the novel progresses this deepens into love, both sexual and spiritually. It becomes a love triangle which causes a lot of pain and little satisfaction. The last voice that enters into the picture is the eccentric Dr. Potter who has a hankering for George's sister. Nobody likes the guy because instead of confronting life, he dwells instead in books, mainly the classical writers of Rome and Greece. When you start a conversation with him, he begins quoting from an author instead of communicating sense to you. Towards the latter part of the book, all the characters become involved in the Crimean War. Or actually George becomes involved in the war and wherever he is it sucks the others with him. Just like all wars, this one changes the future of not just the combatants but also of the bystanders.The parts of the book set in Liverpool are quite good and interesting. They seem to be written with more passion and personal knowledge than the war scenes. The books problem lies in the deadpan writing. It's like watching the stand up comedy of Steven Wright, where a monotone voice is supposed to make you laugh by its very absence of emotion. It's the same thing here. We are supposed to feel horror and love through understatement when neither of these emotions are capable of understatement. The closer I got to the end, the more bored I got. I skipped over some pages to get to the end. I didn't care about the character's fates. I just wanted to say i finished it.

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