Beryl Bainbridge - The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress (3 stars)

The author's final, unfinished novel is a masterclass in confident prose

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Beryl Bainbridge - The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress

(Little, Brown)

Beryl Bainbridge’s editor Brendan King called this final novel by the five-times Booker-shortlisted English author – who died of cancer in 2010 – a flawed masterpiece. And he should know, having remastered the nearly-finished manuscript, a ten-year work in progress; for all his faithful endeavour, a final vital spark lighting the narrative’s dry tinder is never struck, though Bainbridge’s prose has the unmistakable crispness of a writer in absolute command of her craft.

Inspired by reports of a mysterious girl in a spotty frock seen fleeing LA’s Ambassador Hotel after the Bobby Kennedy assassination in 1968, like many of Bainbridge’s 18 novels it’s a thriller based around historical events. But with a very personal slant: the titular protagonist Rose – a naïve English girl driven across America by her suspicious sponsor Washington Harold, as both pursue personal reckonings with the enigmatic Dr Wheeler – was modelled on Bainbridge herself. Rose and Harold’s uneasy relationship is never satisfactorily developed, and many questions are left unanswered. But for simple elegance and foreboding ambience, this is a sign-off worthy of any author of Bainbridge’s generation.

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