According to Queeney by Beryl Bainbridge is another sales find (yay! booksales!), a fictionalised «biography» of Samuel Johnson’s last 20 years, especially focusing on his relationship with the Thrales, and his infatuation with Mrs Thrale. The writer of the amazon synopsis labours under the misapprehension that Queeney – daughter of Mr and Mrs Thrale – is the narrator of the book, which is blatant nonsense. The narration is certainly centered around her, as she is present at a majority of the events described, but it is in the third person and we also get insights into things she could not possibly have seen or known. However, each section of the book is prefaced, so to say, by a letter written by Queeney some years after Johnson’s death, in response to promptings by one of his biographers. From these we learn that her memories are not pleasant to her, and this colours our interpretation of the rest of the narrative.
I notice that the reviewers have found the book filled with «humour and wit» and such like, I can’t say I saw that, it certainly didn’t make me laugh out loud, though I did, perhaps, smile occasionally. In any case it is a fascinating portrait of a fascinating man (not the least fascinating thing about him being the influence he excerted over his friends and acquaintances).
This book is a tie-in to a BBC programme made to «celebrate» the 50th anniversary of J.B. Priestly’s English Journey. Bainbridge’s version is sub-titled «Being a rambling but truthful account of what one person saw and heard and felt and felt during a journey through England», which I suspect is also a «rip-off» of Priestly. I found my copy – a first edition in dust jacket – in a shop in Wigtown, for the princely sum of £2. It has the inscription «FROM BERYL», to which the shop-owner has noted, in pencil, «(probably not the author)», and I tend to agree. Still, it was a good buy.
The account is certainly rambling. Bainbridge uses a language that is very reminicent of a diary, especially in leaving out the subject in many sentences (as in «Went to Milton Keynes» rather than «I went…» or «We went»). It might not suit everyone, but I like it. It is also, in many ways, a sort of summing up of all the things that are not wonderful or terrible about England, but that are not ordinary either. For an anglophile like me it’s a lovely read, though I must admit it’s made me rather «homesick».
And I like her conclusion, such as it is.
I suppose I’ll have to get hold of Priestly, now (though not on ABE just now – they only have one copy listed, and it’s at 50 dollars, which seems unecessarily steep for a whim – you can find lots of Bainbridges, though, if you don’t happen to have one already).