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Beryl Bainbridge has died

July 2, 2010 |  2:06 pm

BerylbainbridgePrizewinning author Dame Beryl Bainbridge, known for her keen-eyed, droll fictions, died Friday.The novelist, who was probably 77 (some sources report she was 75 or 76), had been suffering from cancer.

Bainbridge won the Guardian Fiction Prize in 1974 for her novel "The Bottle Factory Outing" and two Whitbread awards, for "Injury Time" in 1977 and "Every Man for Himself" in 1996. She was a finalist for the Booker Prize five times and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2000.

Born in Liverpool, Bainbridge took to the stage before finding her voice on paper with her first book, 1967's "A Weekend with Claud." Her 1989 novel "An Awfully Big Adventure" drew on her experiences acting in a local theater company; the book was made into the 1995 film starring Hugh Grant.

Many of Bainbridge's earliest novels tapped her personal experiences, but later in her career she turned to big historical moments, delving into them with exacting focus. Her 1994 novel "The Birthday Boys" was based on Capt. Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated 1912 South Pole expedition, which had no survivors. Our reviewer Judith Freeman wrote:

In each account a birthday is celebrated, or mentioned--thus the title. It's an ironic touch by a novelist noted for her droll humor. A darker, more tragic story couldn't be masquerading under a more jovial veneer.

I read "The Birthday Boys" in one sitting, in a state of complete absorption, stunned by its beauty, by the depth of its accomplishment, but perhaps most of all by the audacious choice of historical subject matter which Bainbridge has appropriated and so flawlessly rendered into fiction....

It was a brilliant decision to chose to tell this story from five different perspectives, for it allows the complexities and contradictions to emerge.

Kent Carroll, who published Bainbridge in America at both Carrol & Graf and Europa Editions, told the Associated Press she was "a wonder, kind and generous with a fine subtle sense of humor about the absurdity of it all."

In 2005, her eldest grandson shot the documentary "Beryl's Last Year" -- Bainbridge was convinced she would die at 71, like many members of her family before her -- but she found a few more years after all. The Guardian has a lovely photo gallery remembrance.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Beryl Bainbridge in 1998. Credit: Michael Crabtree / Associated Press

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