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Master Georgie (1998)

by Beryl Bainbridge

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8441818,612 (3.4)148
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.… (more)

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» See also 148 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Didn't like this one very much. It is a portrayal of a man, George Hardy, through the eyes of three people close to him; notably, his adopted sister, Myrtle. It just wasn't that interesting to me. I would have liked it a lot more, I think, had the other three characters given us a portrait of Myrtle...she had by far the most interesting story of them all, which was only hinted at. ( )
  LynnB | Aug 7, 2020 |
death, war, photography, love - each in turn an obsession - all wrapped up in a historical novel around the Crimean war. Written in a matter-of-fact unemotional tone, it nevertheless manages to call forth a strong emotional response. November 2019 ( )
  alanca | Nov 11, 2019 |
Well, I finally finished Master Georgie, a much admired book that has been sitting on my shelf for years, on my second try. I'm left feeling somewhat disappointed and a bit unsure of what all the fuss was about. The book has received numerous awards and has been acclaimed as a masterpiece and the progenitor of something entirely new in the genre of historical fiction. It was published back in 1998, so perhaps it seemed more original then than now. I take it the structure is the novel's hallmark, but by now, telling a story from the first person perspectives of several characters has become rather commonplace. George Hardy is an aristocratic young doctor who seems to be adored by all. His story is told in six chapters by three characters: Myrtle, a foundling taken in by the family as a maid, who loves Georgie excessively and follows him everywhere, even to the battlegrounds of the Crimean War; his friend Dr. Potter, a pedant who can't stop spouting lines from Greek and Roman classics; and Pompey Jones, a street urchin with sticky fingers and a knack for photography. Each chapter focuses, in part, on a photograph and, in part, on a death (or many of them)--another part of Bainbridge's structure. The first chapter sets the tone: Myrtle is posing for a portrait with Georgie's dead father. The senior Mr. Hardy collapsed in a brothel, and the novel's four main characters all conspire to move his body back home and to cover up the salacious circumstances. When Georgie, a surgeon, decides that he might be of use in the Crimean conflict, the others join him. Their narratives create a small commentary on class, love, and war. But however clever the structure might be, and however devastating the verbal portraits of death from warfare and disease, I never felt very engaged with any of the characters. One review I read after finishing the book said that it needs to be read at least three times to appreciate its brilliance. Maybe that was the problem--but I'm afraid I'm not inclined to give it two more readings. ( )
  Cariola | May 8, 2016 |
I had no notion at all what the story was about before starting this novel, even though I'd had it in my possession since 2011 and had heard the title bandied about countless times. All I knew is it had been shortlisted for the Booker and had an excellent reputation, and didn't seek to find out more about it, which is uncharacteristic for me. At the beginning, I thought it would be about photography, which the Georgie in question takes an interest in when the novel begins in the mid-1840s. Then it became a novel about obsession, with one of the narrators, young Myrtle, a foundling who has found a home with George's family, so in love with the young man that she's literally willing to follow his every step. Then it became a novel about the Crimean War, more or less as lived close to the front, Georgie now being a doctor and taking care of the horribly maimed and wounded, while Myrtle and his step-brother Dr Potter—who is specialised in geology and well versed ancient literature, but is sickened at the sight of maimed bodies—making camp with our hero in the worst possible conditions. The novel is told by three narrators; the two mentioned above, as well as Pompey Jones, a young man who starts off as a street urchin, then becomes a fire-eater and finally a photographer assigned to Crimea to document the war. We learn about Georgie through those three individual narratives but never get a glimpse into his own thought patterns, which I found a very novel approach which turned George Hardy into a sort of mythical figure, which I suppose he was to the three people most closely involved in his life during the war, and what Beryl Bainbridge probably set out to turn him into, as the title partially implies.

Extremely well written with beautiful language and strong imagery, I can well see why this novel was shortlisted for the Booker prize when it came out in 1998 (it was the novel [Amsterdam] by Ian Mcewan who took it that year; equally deserving in my opinion). Bainbridge was nominated no less than five times for the Booker and passed away from cancer without actually ever winning it. A shame, but all the more reason for me to want to discover more of her work now I have a vivid example of what an excellent writer she was. ( )
  Smiler69 | Jun 14, 2015 |
This is more of a novella rather than a novel but that aside still manages to pack a punch.

The book is based around a Master George Moody a doctor and medical photographer and is told in 6 photographic plates by three very different characters, Myrtle the adopted orphan sister, Pompey Jones a street urchin turned photographer's assistant and George's brother-in-law Doctor Potter. Myrtle is the most devoted to Georgie despite him seemingly having no interest in women period, Pompey is more pragmatic and sees Georgie as a means out of the gutter with suggestions of a homo-sexual relationship and to a better life whereas Potter is the least attached of the three but like Pompey has no real money of his own so lives off Georgie's patronage.

Death is a constant throughout from the death of George's father in a backstreet whore's bed in London to the mud and filth of the Crimean War and we are certainly not spared some of the gory realities of War which are chiefly provided by Pompey. However, there are also lighter moments provided in the main by Potter usually at his own expense as he escapes the brutality of War into books, geology and daydreaming.

The use of three different narators is an interesting concept as you see the same occurance seen from varying standpoints much like real life and it also allows us to see snippets of Georgie's character bit by bit. The juxtaposition of differing human characters and characteristics the randomness of War is quite cleverly done. As is the view of life for the characters before the War in London and their Victorian values, in particular how the British combatants even took their wives and lovers with them to the Crimea before the actual War like it was some sort of holiday camp.

Unfortunately I was never really convinced by the character of Georgie himself or quite why everyone seemed so devoted to him. The brevity of the book certainly did not help IMHO. Overall an interesting read and it would not put me off reading any of Bainbridge's other works but probably not one that will live long in the memory ( )
  PilgrimJess | Jun 16, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Beryl Bainbridgeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Smits, ManonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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I was twelve years old the first time Master Georgie ordered me to stand stock still and not blink.
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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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