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The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress

2.76  ·  Rating details ·  595 ratings  ·  108 reviews
In the summer of 1968, Rose sets off for the United States to meet a man she knows as Washington Harold. In a country rocked by rising violence, they join forces in search of the elusive Dr Wheeler - oracle, guru and redeemer - whom Rose credits with rescuing her from a terrible childhood, and against whom Harold nurses a silent grudge.
Hardcover, 197 pages
Published May 1st 2011 by Little Brown and Company (first published November 6th 2007)
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Average rating 2.76  · 
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 ·  595 ratings  ·  108 reviews

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Nov 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: british-authors
Like many other authors, Beryl Bainbridge drew on the experiences of her own life for the events, themes and settings of her novels. She once claimed she had never really written fiction because all her books were depictions of events that she herself had witnessed or experienced. For her, real life was more peculiar and riveting than anything she could have imagined or created. Though many of her later novels were in the historical fiction genre, she never completely abandoned the re-working of ...more
Mar 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
Everything about this book was just ok. I feel that if that either one of the main characters were more likable, it would have help the book and flow tremendously. Washington Harold is a cranky, complaining man who thinks of himself as a protector, but his actions show that he is not. Rose is annoying and seems like an immature teenager in an adult's body. Their only connection is they both know a man named Wheeler and they go on a road trip to find him.

I don't recommend this book.
Oct 16, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beryl Bainbridge passed away before this book was complete. It is based on a true story the night of Robert Kennedy's murder. A woman in a polka dotted dress accompanied by two men was heard shouting that they had killed him (Robert Kennedy.) Despite several people observing the woman, she was never located. The book makes an unexpected connection with the event, but ends, just as history, with no closure.
Rose and Harold, the two main characters in the book are seeking a Mr. Wheeler who is trave
Beth (bibliobeth)
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Quite a short book and the author died before finishing it sadly. To be honest, I appreciated the writing style and thought rose was an interesting character, but found it all a bit disjointed, dreamy and confusing. Shame!
Sophia Roberts
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Such a shame Bainbridge didn't finish this incredible book. The characters are not attractive - in the least (!) - but the prose is compelling and the narrative structure ingenious. ...more
Shonna Froebel
Sep 06, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I picked up this novel for its cover appeal. The book is set in 1968 and Rose has travelled from England to Baltimore to meet up with an American man she met briefly in England, Harold. Harold wants desperately to find Dr. Wheeler, a man he blames for certain events that affected him. Rose knew Dr. Wheeler years before when she was a child and teen and wants to see him again for her own reasons. She isn't aware of Harold's motives. Dr. Wheeler is always a step ahead of the two and they soon real ...more
Jan 01, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The last, unfinished novel by Beryl Bainbridge. I haven't read her work before, and I don't know much about the incident this story is (loosely) based on - the RFK assassination - but something about it intrigued me, and I'm glad it did. Her writing is simply astonishing, visionary - a road trip across America in 1968 with an enigmatic heroine, and many unforgettable characters. Apparently Bainbridge had struggled with this book for years as her health declined, but you wouldn't guess it. It was ...more
Oct 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed it, though the characters themselves are not very likeable. I found the setting of 1960s America after the assassination of Martin Luther King particularly interesting, though I would have liked this to have a bigger influence within the book. After an initially uncertain start I found myself wishing it wasn't unfinished as I'd have liked to know exactly how true events and the fictional side connect. There was a sense of something unfolding, especially due to the mysterious signi ...more
Mary Durrant
Feb 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rose sets of from Kentish Town with a one way ticket to America.
She meets up with Washington Harold and they travel across America in a camper van in search of the elusive Dr Wheeler who always seems to be one step ahead.
It reaches it's dramatic climax on a hot day in June in the Ambassador hotel.
A very dark story with very strange characters.
Beryl Bainbridge died before finishing this novel which is such a shame.
Another great author lost.
May 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is about the 4th bainbridge book I've read and despite the unfinished ending due to her recent death, I've loved this book from its enigmatic beginning to the macabre-hinted end. Her writing is pure artistry with characters drawn with deserved complexity.. She is one of the finest writers, next to Penelope Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Taylor, and Elizabeth Bowen, but darker in tone.. ...more
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
quirky and hard to follow...I don't think I understood it... ...more
Disappointing, not only because it's unfinished. A higgeldy piggeldy mish mash of a book. ...more
Jan 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-group
Abandoned as a 'Life's too short'. Didn't hate it, didn't like it. Bored me more than anything. And I've got far too many books to read that I just know are going to be so much better than this. ...more
Richard Moss
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress was Beryl Bainbridge's final novel, and be warned that she didn't get to finish it before she died.

She was close though, and there are plenty of her characteristic qualities on show.

One is her ability to confound, confuse and disorientate.

From the off, it's a difficult to get a handle on exactly what's playing out. Our two main protagonists are Rose, a dental assistant from England coming to the end of her 20s, and Harold, her bearded, middle-aged guide for a road
Feb 27, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This past summer I read my first book by Beryl Bainbridge and liked it. I love the title and cover of this one, her last, published posthumously in 2011, but couldn’t quite make head nor tail of this odd shaggy dog road story set in 1968.

Rose, a young British woman, though chronologically older than she given credit for by the many male characters in the tale, has come to America to find an influential, but mysterious man. All the central men are mysterious, mysterious and quite ordinary men. Th
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just as The Spectator states on the cover of this book, this story is gripping, funny, and "deeply mysterious." It's decidedly dark humor, a 30-year-old English woman (who behaves quite childishly much of the time), Rose, flies to America, her trip funded by Washington Harold, an American she and friends met during an earlier trip he made to England. Turns out they both know the mysterious "Dr. Wheeler," and want to reconnect with him for two very different reasons. Coincidence?....

It's 1968, an
Jun 28, 2012 rated it liked it
I have always enjoyed reading the novels of Beryl Bainbridge. Whether writing about passengers on the Titanic or explorers in the Artic or actors in a British theatre company she explored the dark pathways that fragile humans find themseleves on as they try and live their lives. Bainbridge has a dark ferocious wit and her novels are not for the faint of heart. The Girl with the Polka Dot Dress is her last work and my Kindle version does not contain a coda described in some reviews I read linking ...more
Janet Francis-Jones
This book was typical of that dreadful feeling you get when you read and throughly enjoy a book then find that the last few pages are missing, or you leave the book somewhere just as you get to the end! It was a great read! Brilliant characters, all rather unnerving and not exactly likeable, but worth getting to know. A journey you just know is going to come to some shocking denouement and you can't wait to get there but don't really want the journey to come to and end as the events that occur o ...more
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Superb in terms of setting and characters, especially since Bainbridge was working from memory in England nearly 50 years after Robert Kennedy's assassination. The RFK angle doesn't really come into play until near the end of the book, leaving me wondering if the author herself would've continued to struggle with fitting that in specifically had she lived a bit longer? Being familiar with the theories regarding the event, I was thrown a bit as West gives the girl a rather heavy English accent, a ...more
This was Beryl Bainbridge's last, and unfinished, book so it's even more enigmatic than the rest of her novels. Part of her charm as a writer is treating the reader like an adult and not hitting us over the head with significant plot points we need to remember for later. Subtlety is the order of the day - in some cases so much subtlety that you have to go back to find some of the missing information.

All the above is true of her finished work and it's even more true of this book. As we never got
Jun 19, 2012 marked it as to-read
Good review in London RoB 14 July 2011 by Andrew O'Hagan.
The Dressmaker 1973 is autobiographical.
The Bottle Factory Outing 1974 has characters with jobs the author had had [want more from life than small waes and heavy gropes]
An Awfully Big Adventure - Stella's starlust ad attempt to rip herself from working-class strictures, 1950s Liverpool.

"going in search of her many possible selves" she turned to historical novels:
According To Queeney [observing Samuel Johnson]
The Birthday Boys [Sco
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After my first taste of Beryl Bainbridge's writing, I must admit she seems to be an acquired taste. The best I can do is to liken this posthumous, unfinished novel to a Coen brothers' movie. It is filled with weird characters and situations, unanswered questions and mysterious happenings. However, the action revolves around historical events and related persons. Oddly enough, the fact that the novel has no traditional ending seems to fit extremely well and that is the part that I found most attr ...more
Sep 30, 2014 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 15, 2015 rated it liked it
This is the only book that I've ever read because of a popular song: Mark Knopfler released a song tribute to Beryl Bainbridge in March, 2015.

The main character in this book, Rose, seems like the female character in another Knopfler song, "Donkey Town," maladjusted but with redeeming qualities.

Unfortunately, this was the last of Bainbridge's novels and was unfinished -- though before she died of cancer, she left instructions for her editor on publishing it. The reader is left with a good story
Maybe I am too young to appreciate the historical fiction aspect of this novel? I did grasp all the insight to the characters met along the way, such as The Kennedys, Martin Luther King, etc., not to mention the real-life events. I am sure Bainbridge portrayed the tension that must have been in the air during this time well, but I had a difficult time following most of the story. It did not seem to have a solid foundation from the very beginning. It centers around this elusive Doctor Wheeler, bu ...more
Jul 23, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Picked this up on a whim, unfamiliar with Beryl Bainbridge, not knowing this was a creative exercise based on Bobby Kennedy's assassination, and also not knowing that Bainbridge died before she was actually able to finish the book. Realizing all that after the fact, this odd little novel made a lot more sense (not to suggest that it wholly makes sense even so). It offers a strange, dark road trip for a young British girl and a cranky older fella, in joint pursuit of one Dr. Wheeler for very indi ...more
Jan 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
It's ok. I really liked the writing style, one gets to take turns and see the internal thoughts that go on in the minds of the two main characters, (very William Falkner) but it somehow felt like a jip at the end. I understand how the writer is weaving life and facts and building up to a crescendo that is a potential (fictional) explanation of something that really happened. But it had to be done by printing a news article at the end of the book. It's like a joke thats not all that clear, so it ...more
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
I've been wanting to read a Beryl Bainbridge for some time. I should have investigated more thoroughly. The aspects I quite liked about this book (the understated and economic style) are probably true of many Bainbridge novels. I hadn't realised Bainbridge died while this book was in progress and one of her colleagues prepared it for publication. Therefore the ending is entirely unresolved, in a dissatisfying way. And the whole tale feels disjointed. I will have a Bainbridge break and then resea ...more
Jul 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
Not the best book I've read but not the worst. You are thrown straight into the journey of these two characters and the trip and their relationship is the main plot of the book. There are plenty of side characters but for me they didn't bring a great deal. Neither of the main characters are particularly likeable and I just couldn't take to them. They felt like fictional characters rather than someone you could relate to.

The author died before finishing the book, it would have been good to know w
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Dame Beryl Margaret Bainbridge DBE was an English writer from Liverpool. She was primarily known for her works of psychological fiction, often set among the English working classes. Bainbridge won the Whitbread Award twice and was nominated for the Booker Prize five times. In 2008, The Times newspaper named Bainbridge among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". ...more

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