středa 3. srpna 2011

Beryl Bainbrige: Zachraň se, kdo můžeš (Every Man for Himself)

   We read the first chapter of this book at a literary seminar and than I chose to read it at our Reading Club. Nevertheless, there was a last minute change of plan and we will read something else.
  I wrote the fist paragraph of this review few days ago and I have to say I have been a little bit lost about what to write about this book since. I also forgot all the interesting things I noted when reading it (those I didn’t write down because they were all so clear and easy to remember…I’ll never learn). Anyway, I’m gonna do my best.
   Few interesting facts – it won the Whitbread Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize and was a nominee of The Booker Prize. It treats the Titanic disaster and it was published the same year the movie Titanic went out. Many people probably believed the movie was based on this book and the success was great…I don’t think Bainbridge calculated like this when she was writing the book but still…lucky girl.
   The narrator’s name is Morgan and he’s a young, rich American. The story begins on the day of Titanic’s departure when a man, completely unknown to Morgan, dies on the street and gives him a photo of a Japanese girl. The reader doesn’t know from the beginning that the mentioned ship is Titanic but…there’s hardly anyone who has ever taken this book into his hands without knowing what it is about (and for those few who really did not know…the cover spoils the surprise anyway). The way Bainbridge reveals the name of the ship is one of the things I appreciated about this book. She feels no urge to dramatize new revelations. The name is mentioned only by the way and as if the reader was supposed to already have guessed it (he probably is). She doesn’t put it at the end of a paragraph or a chapter…the name just appears and you tell yourself: “OK, so I was right.” Nice change…
   There is not much of a story to tell. Morgan meets with bunch of rich people who all know each other…the world of wealthy is small. There are quite many characters and it might be a little difficult to get who is who at the beginning (ok, it’s not such a challenge but most of them turn up in one scene). A series of shorter episodes follows and it’s rather a mosaic of people and their characters than an epic story. Of course, the ship sinks but I felt like it wasn’t such a big deal for the author. It seemed to me that she used the catastrophe to make a morbid atmosphere rather than anything else.
   So, the book focuses rather on Morgan than on the story. He seems quite detached from the rest of his friends. One of the things is that his childhood wasn’t particularly easy one. His father died before Morgan was born and his mother followed few years after that. He spent some time in an orphanage and later his family found him and his aunt and uncle raised him. I am not absolutely sure but I believe that when they took him to their home he was old enough to remember it so he feels different from people who have always lived in wealth. The aunt and uncle didn’t really make it easier to him – for example, Morgan recollects that once he travelled with them on a ship but they were in the first class and he was in the third…quite clearly so that people didn’t know about him.
   But he is quite a likeable characters. Yes, he is detached and sometimes behaves oddly (he stole a picture of his mother from his uncle’s study) but he’s very ironical and pretty fun. Bainbridge’s style is another thing why this worth reading. You feel the whole time like nothing serious is actually happening. Titanic goes down. People die. Yeah, well. What’s next? She makes kind of morbid atmosphere from the very beginning – a man dies on the very first page of the book and the way she (or rather Morgan) describes it is quite cruel (the dying man holds on a fence and Bainbridge/Morgan makes a simile with an old scarecrow). There are also many moments when a character says something like “Yeah, but this ship is unsinkable” and everyone laughs. It’s not some extremely innovative idea but yet…it gives you the shivers.
   There is also kind of a detective story, because Morgan a bit by bit discovers some facts from is childhood. There are also different interconnected characters and events, sometimes rather implied than really said, so that’s interesting too.
    To summarize it, Every Man for Himself is an interesting book – it probably won’t sweep you off your feet but it’s still a good reading.

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