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An Awfully Big Adventure

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  930 ratings  ·  106 reviews
It is 1950 and Stella has been taken on as assistant stage manager for a Liverpool rep company. She quickly becomes obsessed with their dissolute director, but when the celebrated O'Hara arrives to take the lead, a different drama unfolds. He and Stella are bound in a past neither dares interpret.
Paperback, 197 pages
Published February 6th 2003 by Abacus (first published December 31st 1989)
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Average rating 3.55  · 
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 ·  930 ratings  ·  106 reviews

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Another little gem from the 1990 Booker shortlist. Beryl Bainbridge was a perennial Booker bridesmaid - she never won the prize, but was shortlisted five times and also longlisted once. This is my first experience of her writing, and it left me wanting to read more.

This is a black comedy set in a provincial theatre in Liverpool shortly after the Second World War. The heroine Stella is a young woman living with her aunt and uncle in humble circumstances, whose love of make believe has
Gumble's Yard
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019-mookse, 2010
Revisited for the 2019 Mookse Madness tournament. One thing that I have been reflecting on is Beryl Bainbridge's literary descendants - and it struck me that a number of recent Up-lit books (most noticeable "Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine") have borrowed a crucial plot device from this book.

A slowly written, crafted book - full of the pathos of:

The post war struggles of the middle class;

The reality of the hard work and tensions of a dramatics company behind the seeming glamour
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This short novel was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1990 and was inspired by Beryl Bainbridge’s own time at the Liverpool Playhouse.

It is 1950 and Uncle Vernon, who runs a Liverpool boarding house with Lily, has pulled some strings to get sixteen year old Stella a job at the theatre. Lily objects; “People like us don’t go to plays, let alone act in them.” However, Stella will be a lowly assistant at first – fetching and running errands for the cast. Although Uncle Vernon may fee
Mar 19, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: brits
I sat down and re-read this deceptively slim volume this afternoon and evening, as I'm going to do it with a class of mine. The story would be funny if it weren't so sad. Ms Bainbridge brings us a naive and desperately needy young girl who leaves disaster and death in her wake, but in spite of her streak of self-centred brashness, she really is not to blame for what has happened. Indeed no-one quite knows what has happened, least of all her, and each of the characters will put their own interpre ...more
Jun 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The more I read Beryl Bainbridge, the more I'm convinced that she is one of the most brilliant English novelists of the late 20th/early 21st century. She's utterly original, unafraid to dispense with unneeded novelistic conventions. She's like a tightrope walker, who doesn't just edge along the wire, but who positively dances.... Her prose is uncluttered, her storytelling assured.

This novel follows Stella's journey from Innocence to Experience when she joins a theatre company. At fir
Jonathan Pool
"she's at an impressionable age and she's mixing with some very odd people" (96)
So is Stella Bradshaw described, our sixteen year old innocent making her way in the thespian world.
Stella may be naive, but she possesses native cunning, and the necessary ambition to navigate 1950's Liverpool.
Beryl Bainbridge writes about a time in which people's foibles, and bad habits, are the stuff of local legend. A youngster needs to get street wise quickly.

An Awfully Big Adventur
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge was the second book I'd read by this writer. The first one was The Bottle Factory Outing which I enjoyed, so I came to An Awfully Big Adventure with high hopes.

An Awfully Big Adventure is set in a 1950s Liverpool repertory company. Repertory and regional theatre can be a wonderful setting for a novel: all the petty feuding, the power struggles, the thwarted ambitions etc. It's society in microcosm. Sadly, I found An Awfully Big Adventure rather hard going. For the first half of the book I struggled to
Cleopatra  Pullen
Jun 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An Awfully Big Adventure is set in 1950s Liverpool, a landscape still filled with rations and other post-war deprivations and the theatre. What a mix for this coming of age novel through less than rose-tinted glasses. It is therefore no surprise that Bainbridge chose to borrow her title from the classic play by J.M Barrie, Peter Pan where Peter has a throw-away line:

‘To die would be an awfully big adventure.’

With the title borrowed from a story about a boy who doesn
Leah Darrow
Jan 15, 2011 rated it liked it
I had heard a lot of good things about Beryl Bainbridge, and I wasn't disappointed by the quality of her prose - it's sparse, intelligent, insightful, and extremely unique. For pure writing skill, few can top her. Still, I read three of her novels back-to-back, and all three were ultimately rather unsatisfying. She takes some of the modern writing tendencies to the extreme, including a cynical tone and a cool distance from her characters that never really allows you connect to any of them. They ...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
I think this isn't for me. I got about 20%, but didn't really have a clue what was going on and didn't care. One of my friends told me I probably wouldn't like Bainbridge. I'll try another ... someday.
Aug 01, 2011 rated it liked it
It took me a while to get into this book - I found it to be quite slow at first but it builds gradually and gets much better towards the end! What the author does really well is to convey the feel of the time in which it is set. I really felt as though I was watching the scenes take place in the austere, post-war 1950s - that feeling of drabness but also of change.

Stella is a naïve and somewhat disturbed individual who is on a voyage of self-discovery. She thinks she’s in love with M
Jan 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Part nostalgic backstage drama, part taut coming-of-age story, Bainbridge packs a great deal into this 200 page novel. Stella is 16, being raised by her aunt and uncle in a run-down Liverpool boarding house in 1950. Through a connection of her uncle's, Stella obtains a position as a backstage lackey and small-role player in a repertory company, where she promptly falls in love with the company's director, Meredith Potter. Only Stella, with her mix of 16 year old naivete and no small amount of se ...more
Aug 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An extraordinarily witty, perceptive exploration of a young girl's initiation into the world of adulthood. Line by line, this slender novel builds a world that is at once full of possibilities and governed by limitations. A black comedy that ultimately persuades the reader to have compassion for the circumscribed lives of its characters and to consider the limitations of one's own life as disguised opportunities for sympathy and gentleness for oneself and others. Cogent, sardonic, quick and emot ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is another book read in preparation for the 2019 Mooskie Madness. This short novel was shortlisted for the Booker award in 1990. It is set in Liverpool, England in 1950. Stella, a 15 or 16 year old girl, is the main character. She lives with her Uncle Vernon and his wife who own and run a boarding house. While she periodically calls her mother, her mother always says the same think. We are given no indication of why she does not live with her mother until nearly the end of the book. Uncle V ...more
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: group-rttc
Set in a Liverpool repertory company in the 1950s, this is a darkly entertaining look at the details of human relationships and the collateral damage they leave in their wake.

Prickly teenager Stella is found a job at the theatre by her Uncle Vernon, with whom she lives in a shabby boarding house. She quickly develops a crush on the director, Meredith Potter, and finds her place among the eccentric characters and painful relationships of the theatrical company. Then, as rehearsals for Peter Pan
Roger Pettit
Aug 29, 2011 rated it liked it
This quirky novel is the first by Beryl Bainbridge that I have read. It is a model of concise, spare writing. Having said that, I should stress that one has to concentrate fully throughout the book's almost 200 pages to grasp the intricacies and the subtleties of the plot and of the characterisation. The action takes place in the 1950s in Liverpool and revolves around the activities of a professional repertory theatre company. The central character is 16-year old Stella Bradshaw, who lives with ...more
David Hebblethwaite
Oct 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Beryl Bainbridge’s work is one of the gaps in my reading history, so I decided to join in with a Bainbridge Reading Week a few months ago. But I hope I was just unlucky with the book I chose, because I didn’t get along with An Awfully Big Adventure as well as I'd hoped to.

It’s Liverpool in 1950, and young Stella Bradshaw, who lives with her aunt and uncle, dreams of a life in the theatre, something that’s not typical of girls with her background (‘People like us don’t go to plays,’ says Aunt
May 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
(3.5 stars - very torn...) Dry wit, dark humor, sparse writing, twisted storyline that goes down smooth with a kick at the end. It's been a long time since I read Bainbridge and this was a good reminder of how she can be entertaining and disturbing all at the same time. Young Stella joins the somewhat seedy local theater group and falls in love with the director - the self-centered and apathetic Meredith. Stella is so unworldly that she has no idea that he is gay - her efforts to "practice" sex ...more
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brian Robbins
Aug 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The first Beryl Bainbridge I've read but just have to have more - NOW! Hooked on this book from the first page. The comedy is superb, but there was so much more tucked away in such a spare, compressed little book. The ending has the same stunning quality as the scratched recording in Brighton Rock.
Mary Anne
Oct 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
Boring. Sorry, but nothing happened! And not in the prosaic examination of everyday life kinda way, was simply disappointing.
I enjoyed this touching book with typical British humor. The narrator did a great job, I loved his accent!
Jul 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I almost gave up on this, because it is no easy read and I'm rather tired at the moment, but it drew me in with its vivid characterisations. Not a happy book, but a memorable and moving one.
Mary Pagones
Jan 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first read this book after seeing the film when it was released in the 90s, and despite great performances from Hugh Grant and Alan Rickman, I remain convinced the book is much more successful than the film. Stella is a fascinating character--brilliant, erratic, and self-delusional. So she fits in brilliantly with the rep company for which she's acting as an assistant stage manger and bit player; her character's voice is the strongest aspect of this book, along with the humor derived from her ...more
I watched the movie a long time ago. It's a good movie, but not a splendid one. But it has at least one advantage over the book - Alan Rickman as P. L. O'Hara. Shallow of me, but there you are. The P. L. O'Hara in the book just doesn't match up. But, the book is great, it's funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Stella isn't the most likable of protagonists, because she's horribly selfish and unaware of the chaos she causes, but she's so unaware that it's hard to hate her. Brilliant.
Oct 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel-uk
A short novel about a local reperatory company in Liverpool. This is my first Bainbridge novel; it reminds me of Muriel Spark, short but with a nasty surprise at the end.
Jul 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommended to JacquiWine by: Max Cairnduff
I’ve long wanted to read Beryl Bainbridge – her 1989 Booker-shortlisted novel An Awfully Big Adventure has been in my sights since Max reviewed it last year. So, when Annabel announced she would be hosting a Bainbridge Reading Week in June, it seemed the perfect opportunity for me to pick it up.

Set in the early 1950s, An Awfully Big Adventure features Stella, a teenage girl who lives with her Uncle Vernon and his wife, Lily, in their down-at-heel boarding house in Liverpool. (Neither
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
I have never read anything by Beryl Bainbridge even though she was from Liverpool too, and I have to say that even though she was known for her outspoken opinions, her comments about Liverpool people have irked me somewhat. Bainbridge died earlier this year so I thought it was time to put my own prejudices away and give this book a go.
It is 1950 and Stella has been taken on as assistant stage manager just as the Liverpool rep company are about to stage Peter Pan for Christmas and she has f
Dec 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really didn't like this book. Had it not been a bookclub book, I'm not sure I'd have finished it.

The writing was flat: I never cared about any of the characters, and as such had trouble keeping them straight. The plot was pretty much nonexistent: the only driver seemed to be whether or not the gal would get the guy (Stella and Meredith). Lots of things happened, but most weren't interesting enough to bother absorbing, and the ones that were weren't described in enough detail to tru
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Available for trade on This book is a little bit worn around the edges, and otherwise in good condition.

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. The main character, Stella, is a self-centered teenager in an adult world, who thinks she knows whats going on, but hasn't got a clue. Sad thing is, I can remember being a little bit like this, too, although not so precocious.

I had seen the movie years ago, and all I really remembered from it was the ending. So somehow, the entire time
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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".
“She protested she’d rather freeze than wear the coat Lily had bought her. It was too big and it had a fur collar. ‘It sounds rather glamorous,’ he said. ‘That’s as maybe,’ she retorted. ‘It’s too much trouble. You have to paint your face if you wear a fur. It draws attention.” 0 likes
“Rehearsing with Geoffrey would make it easier when the time came for Meredith to claim her. Penetration, from what she had gathered from library books, was inescapably painful unless one had played a lot of tennis or ridden stallions, and she hadn’t done either.” 0 likes
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