Book Review: The Bottle Factory Outing

Book Review: The Bottle Factory OutingBilled as a black comedy, my feelings on 'The Bottle Factory Outing' are mixed. I imagine most readers reactions would be mixed too, although I could see it being for considerably different reasons.

First, the skinny on the story: Two young flatmates, Freda and Brenda, work at a wine factory in London. They couldn't be more different from one another, or the mostly Italian immigrant men that work alongside them. Freda is fierce, independent, troublesome and romantic. Brenda is a victim plagued by victim mentality; shy, dependent, and also troublesome in her own way. Freda is in love with the factory owner's nephew, while Brenda is constantly dodging the advances of the factory manager. When both girls and a collection of the men embark on a company outing for the day, something horrible happens in the woods near their picnic, the result of which sends each character into a tailspin. The novel is a dive headfirst into the mentalities of men and women met with all kinds of tensions during that time period.

Beryl Bainbridge was brought to my attention by a trusted source as some recommended reading. I picked up this short novel and got cracking. Technically, it fit the profile of the material I prefer. Generally, I tend to read mostly older books; lean stuff from the 70s and 80s where a premium was put on talent and writing ability. These books don't qualify as 'classics' in the classical sense, but they challenge the talent that came before and set the bar high. Sometimes, however, there can be a strange atmosphere when reading them. It feels like too many generation gaps are acting as hurdles that hamper an otherwise good reading experience. No fault of the reader or the writer here, just one of those realities with older books.

I felt this novel was a good example of that. I found it hard to lose myself in the book because of a prevailing sense of disconnection that permeated the reading of it. On the flip side, it's very well written (despite the tremendous overuse of adverbs), and Bainbridge was obviously pushing some buttons at the time with her talent. One thing I found eye-opening in the novel was the abysmal treatment of women in the workplace in the 70s. The daily sexual/physical harassment suffered by female employees at the hands of the their male counterparts and superiors will make you shake your head in dismay. It's a decent little story, as well as a window into a world we would barely recognize today.

Overall, I found the fare a little light for my taste and also found myself rushing to finish the book off by the end of it. That being said, the impact of certain portions and passages were not diminished in the slightest, because when Bainbridge throws a punch, she hits you in the gut. A solid 3-star rating for a good book with some understandable shortcomings.

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