Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

Rating: 4. Worth a read
Read before: New read
Author: English
Published: 1900s

The story starts with the devoted Myrtle following Master Georgie, who discovers his father, dead, in the bed of a blowsy, drunken prostitute. Definitely a beginning to hook you in, and the book meanders through Georgie’s childhood and offers us George, now a surgeon and amateur photographer, as he sets off from his comfortable life as a Victorian gentleman, and heir to a fortune, to offer his services in the Crimea.

George is followed to the Crimea by a caravan of devoted followers. The voices of George himself and others (such as his wife) are quiet as the story is told by only three who offer their perspectives of George: Myrtle and Pompey Jones (two foundlings rescued by Master Georgie) and George’s brother in law Potter, who might be educated but basically he's insensitive and pompous.

But George--as lover, father, surgeon and photographer, human being--is different according to each narrator, and we have to compare and contrast to uncover the “truth” of George.

I don’t know who I believed more: the besotted Myrtle (prepared to be George’s sister in public and the mother of his children to be near him), Pompey Jones (George’s homosexual lover), and Potter (whose insensitivity and intellectual leanings sadly skewed the opinion of the only person who might otherwise be a more disinterested observer than either Myrtle or Pompey).

This book unfolds rather than clings to a plot, and the telling of the tale through the eyes of Myrtle, Pompey and Potter means that everything we see of George is through the filter of these characters. But I didn’t find this detracted from trying to understand who George was.

And who was he: in the end it seems (and probably rightly) that everybody’s perspective is right. Maybe a re-read will help.

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