‘A Quiet Life’ convinced me to take Beryl Bainbridge’ out of the box marked ‘undoubtedly an excellent author, but probably not for me.’ We got along rather well.
And now I have read ‘Sweet William’ we are getting along even better.
I could describe ‘Sweet William’ in many ways. Romantic comedy. Social satire. Black comedy. But, for now, let’s just say that it’s a very good book.
Ann’s life seemed to be sailing along rather nicely. She had a good job, as a secretary at the BBC. And she had a fiancé, Gerald, a sensible, successful academic. Gerald had a new job in the USA, and plans were afoot for Ann to join him there once he had settled in.
Her mother doesn’t approve of her lifestyle. Though, as the sixties become the seventies, Ann is less modern than many, her mother is the product of a very different era. That helps to place the story, and its a nice counterbalance to the main storyline.
Gerald has barely left when Ann meets William; a tall, blond, charming playwright. He sweeps her off her feet, and straight into bed. Ann is besotted and she readily agrees to write to Gerald to break off their relationship, to share her home with Willliam, and to giving up her job to look after their relationship, their home, his career.
Warning bells would be ringing for some, but not for Ann.
After all, William had been wonderful when her cousin Pamela came to stay, pregnant and wanting an abortion. Something that was still illegal at the time. He went out of his way to be helpful and supportive.
But then William started to disappear at odd times, and any number of women were making the telephone and the doorbell ring, looking for the elusive William.
It seemed that he charmed every woman he met.
Ann was slow to realise that William was a philanderer, sliding through life on charm, weaving a web of lies and deceit to protect him from the consequences of his actions.
I hoped that Ann would catch on and move on. And I hoped that William would get his just desserts.
This is very much of a story of its time, but it still works because the characters are timeless. There are still Anns and Williams in this world, and I have no doubt at all that similar relationships are being played out.
It’s a simple story, but its eventful, and it carried me along at just the right pace. I had no doubt that the author understood, and she told her tale so well.
There’s intelligence. There’s satire. There’s wit. There’s emotion. And it all works together beautifully.
What I appreciated most was being able to understand Ann’s emotions as she was first besotted and then sadly disappointed.
I’m only disappointed that I’ve read two books by Beryl Bainbridge and neither will fit into my Century of Books. I’ve spotted two books that would fit. I could go back in time to ‘A Weekend With Claude’ or forward in time to’ The Dressmaker’. They’re both in the library, and I’d be quite happy to have another encounter with Beryl …