By Beryl Bainbridge
Although Bainbridge has a canny eye for comedy, I found the characters in this book too clichéd for the humour to work properly. It’s not that I mind satire – if that’s what this is – rather that I don’t like the feeling that an author is holding my hand and pointing out what I should and shouldn’t laugh at. This happens at every turn in this story, and it is at the expense of the characters. I found distasteful the way Bainbridge has created buffoons just to have something to poke fun at.
The character types are too strict: the honourable Italian male, the lecherous Italian male, the shambolic and romantic fat lady, and the uptight doormat woman. By all means the comedic author must rely on some stereotypes. But such an author can create a good book with a strong story only if she shows us something previously hidden about these stereotypes. This is important for creativity’s sake but, moreover, because a good story demands surprise. Or, in the least, change. The characters in this novel react as one would expect them to react, which is usually a good thing in a book, but the reader cannot escape the feeling that Bainbridge has created them thus. Her humour is contrived. She creates, and then points and laughs at what she’s done.
The novel does have some good sides, however. Notwithstanding its cheapness, it is actually funny. Bainbridge can create an amusing set piece very well indeed, with characters arriving just at the right moments for new turns in the elaborate comedic constructions. And, despite the character clichés, there is truth here. It’s unfortunate that the doormat doesn’t have more of a character arc. Her concerns are genuine, and the way they affect her behaviour are spot on. But she learns nothing over the course of the novel; in fact, none of the characters do. That’s it’s greatest failure.