One of the things I love most about Beryl Bainbridge’s writing is that each is unique, not just in terms of premise but there are different places and time periods to explore and of course a fresh set of characters to admire or revile, or perhaps feel indifference towards.
Master Georgie is set around the time Crimea War and has three voices to tell its tale as well as a photograph to illustrate each of the six sections it is divided into. Two of these are set in Liverpool, 1846 and 1850 whereas the remainder is set in 1854 during the war.
First up we meet the formerly impoverished orphan Myrtle who poses next to the corpse of George Hardy’s father. She was taken into the family as a foundling but she is infatuated with George, and so she runs his errands, clears up his messes and generally dotes on him with a fondness that verges on obsession.
We then meet Pompey Jones in 1850 by which time George Hardy is a surgeon and a keen photographer. Pompey Jones is his assistant but their relationship is far from straightforward with Pompey harbouring resentment towards Georgie. It is therefore through Pompey’s narrative that we see a far less wholesome side to Georgie than that we saw through Myrtle’s. Myrtle has been sent away to school to become a lady but her obsessive love for Georgie has not waned despite the fact the latter now has a wife.
Finally we meet Dr Potter, Georgie’s brother-in-law and the Crimea war is the backdrop to the remainder of the story. I know little about this war but I certainly got the feeling it was an authentic portrayal allowing us to see yet more facets of Georgie’s character.
This is a clever book and one that I would say would benefit from a re-read if only time would allow. Not because it is exceptionally complicated but in my desire to read the entire story, I am sure I missed some of the finer points made along the way. There are many themes most notably the photography which adds a compelling dimension to the story-telling. On the larger scale this is a story about a family and a fairly sympathetic portrayal of one man at its heart. There are indiscretions, some shocking events but overall despite a smidge of satire, it is a pleasant read, not designed to shock, but to tell a realistic story. I have to admit this reader couldn’t help but recognise threads of other works of literature set in similar times and circumstances, not that this isn’t an original tale but more that the understanding of the story Beryl Bainbridge seeks to portray is wider than this fairly slim novel can encompass.
As I alluded to earlier in this review – the journey and the devices used to illustrate it, were exceptionally well-written and enjoyable to read but if I am honest, I didn’t really feel that I connected with any of the emotions that I suspect I was intended to. Maybe on a second read, this element would come to the fore…
Master Georgie was my seventh read in my 20 Books for Summer 2018 Challenge and an interesting exploration of a different time and age.