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When Master Georgie - George Hardy, surgeon and photographer - sets off from the cold squalor of Victorian Liverpool for the heat and glitter of the Bosphorus to offer his services in the Crimea, there straggles behind him a small caravan of devoted followers; Myrtle, his adoring adoptive sister; lapsed geologist Dr Potter; and photographer's assistant and sometime fire-eater Pompey Jones, all of them driven onwards through a rising tide of death and disease by a shared and mysterious guilt.Combining a breathtaking eye for beauty with a visceral understanding of mortality, Beryl Bainbridge exposes her enigmatic hero as tenderly and unsparingly as she reveals the filth and misery of war, and creates a novel of luminous depth and extraordinary intensity.
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Beryl Bainbridge seems drawn to disaster. First she tackled the unfortunate Scott expedition to the South Pole in The Birthday Boys; later (but emphatically pre-DiCaprio) came the sinking of the Titanic, in Every Man for Himself. Now, in her 3rd historical novel (and her 16th overall), she takes on the Crimean War, and the result is a slim, gripping volume with all of the doomed intensity of the Light Brigade's charge--but, thankfully, without the Tennysonian bombast. "Some pictures," a character confides, "would only cause alarm to ordinary folk." There's a warning concealed here, and one that easily disturbed readers would do well to heed: Master Georgie is intense, disturbing, revelatory--and not always pretty to look at.
Bainbridge's narrative circles round the enigmatic figure of George Hardy, a surgeon, amateur photographer, alcoholic, and repressed homosexual who counters the dissipation of his prosperous Liverpool life by heading for the Crimean Peninsula in 1854. His journey and subsequent tour of duty are told in three very different voices: Myrtle, an orphan whose lifelong loyalty to her "Master Georgie" becomes an overriding obsession; Pompey Jones, street urchin, fire-eater, photographer, and George's sometime lover; and Dr. Potter, George's scholarly brother-in-law, whose retreat from the war's carnage and into books takes on a tinge of madness.
United by a sudden death in a Liverpool brothel in 1846, these characters plumb the curious workings of love, war, class, and fate. In between, Bainbridge frames an unforgettable series of tableaux morts: a dying soldier, one lens of his glasses "fractured into a spider's web"; a decapitated leg, toes "poking through the shreds of a cavalry boot"; two dead men "on their knees, facing one another, propped up by the pat-a-cake thrust of their hands." Glimpsed as if sidewise and then passed over in language that is as understated as it is lovely, these are images that sear into the brain. Master Georgie is full of such moments, horrors painted with an exquisite brush. --Mary ParkAbout the Author:
Beryl Bainbridge wrote seventeen novels, two travel books and five plays for stage and television, she was shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, and won literary awards including the Whitbread Prize and the Author of the Year Award at the British Book Awards. She died in July 2010.
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