January 14, 2014
I recently discovered Beryl Bainbridge’s book; Another Part of the Wood. I found it whilst browsing through the Penguin Decades series. The decades series contains five key books to represent each decade from the 1950s to the 1980s and celebrates Penguin’s 75th birthday. I have made my way through quite a few of them, and though it’s wrong, it was the covers that first captured my attention.
The story follows two families on a holiday in the Welsh countryside, and the resulting conversations and confrontations. It was published in 1968 and yet many of the themes and tensions are just as relevant now as then. It reminded me of Susan Hill’s King of the Castle, which has a strong sense of foreboding throughout. I won’t give away any of the details, however there are two female characters who both have a fair amount to say through out the book. May and the younger Dotty. I did find it interesting the way May’s wearing of denim is commented on as being not the norm, which seems so strange now that jeans are such a wardrobe staple.
Clothes do matter though, thought May, licking away the grains of sugar folded in the corners of her mouth. If she had the money she would buy a coat the same colour as shredded wheat, with Italian seams at the waist. With it she’s wear a boy’s shirt with buttoned down collar and cream stockings and toffee patent shoes, and beige nail varnish and lip salve, and just a touch of white shadow above her eyes, on the corner of her lids.
It was then she saw the clothes. ‘Look,’ she cried, running towards the stall, pushing aside the coats and dresses, the curtains of her hair enveloping her face and her arms flying out as she separated the hanging garments. ‘Aren’t they smashing? Look at this… and this…’ Her face when she turned to Balfour was bright with happiness.
It was then that she saw the flowered coat. It was seven and six and she had to have it.
The flowered coat was made of some kind of velvet. It rippled and shone. It was orange and blue and green and black, with mustard- yellow ground, and there were buttons small as beads going from wrist to elbow. Balfour thought it was terrible.
He prayed she wouldn’t wear it now. He visualized her stalking, swathed in velvet, through the busy market town, the bell-bottoms of her denim trousers flaring out beneath the long and violently coloured hem.