Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read

Winter Garden – Beryl Bainbridge #20booksofsummer

Classic Fiction

So far I have really appreciated the dark humour Beryl Bainbridge winds through the previous novels I’ve read; An Awfully Big Adventure, Sweet William and Harriet Said, but sadly any such flashes of brilliance in Winter Garden were overshadowed by either a weak plot or one that I simply didn’t ‘get’.

Douglas Ashburner is a lawyer, married or many years with two adult children when he is persuaded by Nina, who he is conducting a clandestine affair with, to join her on a trip to Moscow with the Soviet’s Artist Union. Douglas duly tells his wife he is off to the Highlands fishing, and arrives at Heathrow to meet his fellow travellers at the airport complete with his fishing rod.

The other members of the party are Bernard a minor celebrity in the world of art, and Enid a less well-known artist. Having to indulge in a certain amount of subterfuge regarding their true relationship Douglas finds himself sat apart from Nina during the flight, the book being set in the 1980s air travel was not the regimented affair it is today. Nina had asked Douglas to put her medication in her suitcase which doesn’t arrive in Moscow with the rest of the party. The failure to track down his case causes Douglas more than a bit of worry as he is going to have a devil of a job explaining why it got lost at an airport when it should be with him in Scotland.

If I’m honest after we reach this part of the book, I struggled to make much sense of anything further. Nina mysteriously disappears from the entourage with various excuses and explanations being given for where she is, mainly led by Olga, their translator for the trip. The weird occurrences keep happening with a particularly odd nocturnal encounter on a train trip to Leningrad, none of which are furnished with any real resolution that makes proper sense although I think I know what we are supposed to believe, the problem is I’m not sure!

What I did find interesting is the descriptions of Soviet Russia which come complete with the biting cold weather, not good news for Douglas as he misplaced his hat along the way although he does carry a pink scarf of Nina’s to keep the cold out of his ears. These descriptions of various engagements, viewing of graveyards and paintings include Beryl Bainbridge’s legendary wit, I was particularly fond of the visit to Stalin’s birthplace and the Russian characters we met. I’m really not so sure about Douglas who seemed incredibly naïve, and not just about his affair, particularly considering he’s supposed to be a lawyer. As Nina was off page she was fairly insubstantial although this aspect was nicely balanced by Enid who had some real depth. The trouble is interesting people only take you so far when these are pretty much disconnected from a plot.

Winter Garden was my second read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017.


A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

22 thoughts on “Winter Garden – Beryl Bainbridge #20booksofsummer

  1. Sorry to hear that this wasn’t the success for you that the other Beryl Bainbridge novels were, Cleo. It certainly sounds like there are some interesting characters in it, which is always good. But, as you say, if you aren’t drawn into the plot, it’s harder to stay interested in the book.


  2. I think it’s supposed to reflect the illogical nature of Soviet society – be a bit Kafkaesque perhaps. I can’t remember much of this one, so perhaps it didn’t make that much of an impression.


    1. Thank you Marina – perhaps it was all a little deep for me. Some of the scenes really emphasised that such as the instances where the group were not allowed to leave the car even when the way was blocked so that fits!


  3. I’ve been wanting to enjoy this author, but my first and only so far was Sweet William, which I found annoying…LOL. I do want to try another, but I guess it won’t be this one. Thanks for sharing.


  4. What a pity this one was a bit of a let down after the others you’ve read and enjoyed! The odd thing is that, with my current USSR obsession, it quite appeals to me to see if I can figure out what it’s supposed to be about. 😉 However, I’ll stick with Harriet Said and see how I get on with that first…


  5. So surprised this was. 2 star given your other Bainbridge reviews. She’s an author you have convinced me to read with your other reviews but think fair to say this will not be where I’ll be starting!


    1. I think I just didn’t ‘get’ it! The writing was good but I couldn’t give any more stars to this particular book – I’m not put off the author at all as I have a feeling this just wasn’t for me. As we all say, reading is subjective but I’d recommend one of her other books 😏

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m trying to read more Bainbridge this year having really enjoyed The Bottle Factory Outing, after not reading her for years. From your review, I won’t move this to the top of the list!


  7. Interesting review. I thoroughly enjoyed Every Man for Himself (about the Titanic sinking). I read years ago that when Beryl wrote she walked from her home to a small first floor room with a window looking onto a wall and no toilet (she used a bucket!). She believed that a “view” would distract her from her writing. I loved her sparse prose and dark humor. Reading your post, Cleo, reminded me of B.B. and I am now going to buy a copy of The Birthday Boys.


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