Read Harriet zei... by Beryl Bainbridge Free Online
Book Title: Harriet zei...|
The author of the book: Beryl Bainbridge
Edition: De Arbeiderspers
Date of issue: 1972
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 2.39 MB
City - Country: No data
Loaded: 1554 times
Reader ratings: 5.1
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In Harriet Said..., the final chapter comes first. We see two girls fleeing across a field, screaming and crying. They run home to their parents to tell them 'what had happened'; the police are called. Only when the story is complete does this scene make sense. However, the dread that permeates the book is not created by the knowledge that some catastrophe will eventually come to pass. In fact, once the creeping disquiet of its plot kicks in, it seems likely this climactic event – whatever it is – will prove a relief.
The narrator, unnamed, is thirteen. Her friend Harriet is older by a year, bolder and prettier too: for the narrator, she is a figure of mingled awe, adoration and envy. The two girls are precocious and unusual, and at the same time terribly innocent in the blithely stupid way of young teenagers. They seek out people, adults, often men, to question and analyse. They have learned how to identify those most receptive to their approach, but probing their subjects with words alone is a game they are beginning to tire of.
Now it was not enough; more elaborate things had to be said; each new experience had to leave a more complicated tracery of sensations; to satisfy us every memory must be more desperate than the last. For some time, one of their main interests has been a much older male neighbour: Harriet said his name was Peter Biggs and we should call him Peter the Great. But I thought the name Peter was daft so we called him the Tsar. The story is told across the course of a single summer, as the narrator, egged on by Harriet, resolves to push the limits of her 'friendship' with the Tsar. As the long summer wears on, the girls' increasing closeness to this man builds up a palpable sense of unease. It's hard to decide what's more horrifying: the Tsar's (and other men's) behaviour towards the narrator and Harriet, or the blasé combination of guile and contempt with which the girls respond. You feel you are watching people act as their basest selves, hardly understanding what motivates their own conduct.
Reading a character portrait as remarkable as Harriet Said... makes me realise how few adult authors are capable of capturing the nuances of girlhood, and how exhilarating it is when someone gets it right. The two main characters possess an odd sense of jadedness, seemingly aware their youth has already been irreparably sullied without fully understanding what that means. So much of what they do is performative, yet at the same time, this is the life they are living, these are experiences they can never undo. And we get glimpses of their childishness that make it abundantly clear how very immature they still are. One of the pivotal scenes of the book comes when the girls sneak into the Tsar's garden and spy on him having sex with his wife. The narrator's naivety is laid bare when she reacts with unrestrained horror to this spectacle:
Never never never, beat my heart in the garden, never never; battering against invisible doors that sent agonised pains along my wrists, unshed tears dissolving in my head, I crouched against the window helplessly, unable to move. In its flawless evocation of the strange contradictions of adolescence, Harriet Said... reminded me a little of Bonjour Tristesse, though Sagan's Cécile, at seventeen, looks like a veteran in comparison to these two. That it provoked some disgust upon its publication is no surprise, and it's a rare example of a story that may actually read as even more shocking now than it did in its day. It is powerful, and beautifully written – as well as the characterisation, Bainbridge's descriptions of landscape are wonderful – and altogether feels like a story I am unlikely to forget in a hurry. An author I am very glad to have discovered at last.
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Read information about the authorDame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge DBE was an English writer from Liverpool. She was primarily known for her works of psychological fiction, often set among the English working classes. Bainbridge won the Whitbread Award twice and was nominated for the Booker Prize five times. In 2008, The Times newspaper named Bainbridge among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
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