LONDON – The acclaimed British novelist Beryl Bainbridge, an acute and acerbic chronicler of human relationships, has died at the age of 77.
Ed Wilson, of her literary agency Johnson and Alcock, said Bainbridge died in a London hospital early Friday. She had been suffering from cancer.
Bainbridge was born in the port city of Liverpool in northwest England. Her agent, and her entry in “Who’s Who,” gave the date as Nov. 21. 1934, but records show her birth was registered early in 1933. Bainbridge herself sometimes said she struggled to remember her birth date, ever since she lied about her age so she could take a trip to France as a youngster without her parents’ knowledge.
The gritty spirit of Bainbridge’s home city informed her books, which blended humor, tragedy and the absurd.
“All the books I’ve written, even the historical ones, came from the place of my birth, the characters based on my parents and relations,” she once said.
She published more than 15 novels, including “A Weekend With Claud,” “The Bottle Factory Outing” and “Injury Time.”
Several drew directly on Bainbridge’s own experiences. Her early career as an actress in provincial theater provided the setting for the tragicomic “An Awfully Big Adventure,” published in 1989 and made into a 1995 movie starring Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant.
As time went by, she increasingly turned to historical settings. “Every Man for Himself” was set aboard the Titanic and “Master Georgie” in the Crimean War, while “According to Queeney” looked at 18th-century lexicographer Samuel Johnson. “Young Adolf” imagined the aspiring artist Hitler in Liverpool before World War I, to comic and disturbing effect.
“Beryl had an absolutely original voice: she was a serious comedian, all of whose novels ended tragically,” writer Michael Holroyd told The Guardian newspaper.
Bainbridge was a five-time finalist for the Booker Prize, and twice won the Whitbread literary prize.
Kent Carroll, Bainbridge’s American publisher at Europa Editions, called her “a wonder, kind and generous with a fine subtle sense of humor about the absurdity of it all.”
Robustly outspoken — she was no fan of chick-lit, which she dismissed as “froth” — Bainbridge was unsentimental about life’s hardships.
In her 20s she attempted suicide, an event she later said she was ashamed to remember.
“Putting one’s head in the oven, yes, I think I was probably trying to draw attention to myself,” she said. “I am terribly ashamed. I was a bit miserable. When one is young one has these ups and downs.”
Despite her reputation as an iconoclast, Bainbridge was delighted to be made a dame, the female equivalent of a knight, by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000. The British government called her death “a terrible loss.”
“For over 40 years, she has been rightly recognized as one of the world’s greats, with an original voice and tremendous spirit,” said Culture Minister Ed Vaizey.
At the time of her death Bainbridge was working on “The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress,” a novel set around the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.