Book Review: Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge (4/5)

10 Aug

I read Bainbridge’s final book, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, a few years ago and was fascinated by her style. It was raw and full of little details that came back in the end to make the end amazing. Seeing she had a book about the Titanic, I knew I had to read it. I’m a huge Titanic fan. You wouldn’t even believe the number of books I have on it, it’s awesome. I was lucky to find a copy of this one at a used book store last year and it’s been sitting on my shelf, waiting. It seemed about time to jump on another When Are You Reading? book and this was the top of that list. Let’s do this!

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Cover Image via Goodreads.com

Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

Summary from Goodreads:

The sinking of the world’s greatest luxury liner, the invincible and magnificent S. S. Titanic, has captured people’s attention ever since that tragic April night in 1912, when 1500 people lost their lives. And no one has better dramatized this memorable event than Beryl Bainbridge in Every Man for Himself.

I knew what kind of style Bainbridge uses so I knew to a degree how this book would work. It would start with no explanation of who people were or what they were doing or where they were going. All would be revealed in time. There would be a lot of references to small things that happened earlier in the plot, so it’s best to pay attention. And the boat would sink. That I knew from history. As for what characters to expect from a Titanic novel, I didn’t know. It surprisingly kept to characters similar to James Cameron’s movie. The rich and famous on Titanic make for a great story so you can’t fault Bainbridge for this. I liked it. My prior knowledge likely helped a lot when reading it and understanding who the people were. She introduced a lot of characters, all the big players, really. It might have been a lot for someone else, but I loved it. The sparse prose, historical characters, and great setting made for a killer book.

Some of the characters seemed unreal. I liked this about the other Bainbridge novel I read and I liked it about Scurra this time. No one seemed to know who he was and he was always hard to find when you were really looking for him. It gave the book an air of mystery, something that added to a book where the reader knows a major climax from the setting. How do you make a Titanic story original? Add a mysterious man next to an emotionally unstable narrator. Win.

Scurra embodied someone almost imagined and I loved that about him. I couldn’t quite tell if Morgan was making him up. He was Morgan’s adversary at times but was able to give him comfort no other character could. Though the idea of thinking your father is sleeping with a girl you like is a bit odd. Scurra made the plot fun when it could have been a bit lackluster and have a bit too much internal dialogue without him. He added some good flavor.

Wallis seemed a very modern woman. She defied some gender norms from the time (much like Titanic’s Rose) and seemed very sure of herself. I could relate to her more than the other female characters who seemed rather stiff and fake.

Beryl Bainbridge Image via the NY Times

Beryl Bainbridge
Image via the NY Times

I liked the behavior of the men while the boat was sinking. Bainbridge did a good job of giving us their reactions to almost certain death. Some were frantic, some were in denial. It was very realistic to me and I like the contrast between them. The men drinking in the salon and their excitement about free booze sticks out to me still.

I thought the beginning was a bit too fantastical for a book ground in a historical event. The man dying in Morgan’s arms reminded me of Shirley Jackson more than anything else. I felt it set a bad tone for the book, but I thought it improved from there.

Because of the nature of the Titanic disaster, this book deals with priorities. If you’re going to lose your husband, do you stay and die with him? What do you take with you off of the sinking ship? Doesn’t it seem silly to worry about our appearances when we could be dying? Bainbridge satirized a lot of societies priorities. Some characters still prioritized these tangible possessions when their lives were in danger and it made a very powerful statement.

Writer’s Takeaway: When I read Bainbridge before, I learned about her tendency to refer to prior events in her book. Something small that seemed odd might be hugely important later in the book. My least favorite scene of the dying man came back in the end and was very important to another character. Little things like this keep the reader on his or her toes and I think make for a more exciting book.

A really enjoyable read with a lot of rich historical details. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfilled the 1900-1919 time period for my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge | The Friendly Shelf
Every Man for Himself- Beryl Bainbridge | Savidge Reads
Every Man for Himself- 2015 Reading Challenge | A. Suiter Clarke

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