Home > 1970, 20th Century, Bainbridge Beryl, British Literature, Novel > The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Baindridge – it puts the reader on edge

The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Baindridge – it puts the reader on edge

December 28, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge (1974) French title: Sombre Dimanche. Translated by Françoise Cartano.

The Bottle Factory Outing is my second Beryl Bainbridge, after An Awfully Big Adventure and I can find similarities between the two books.

In The Bottle Factory Outing, we’re in London and our protagonists are two roommates, Freda and Brenda. They live in a boarding house and like each other well enough but have opposite characters. Freda is outgoing and flirty. She loves clothes and make up and wants to marry well. She’s energetic and knows what she wants.

Brenda landed in London after she escaped from an abusive marriage. She’s mousy, down-to-earth and wants to be left alone. She’s passive and her attitude sends mixed messages to people around her and gets on Freda’s nerves.

In the following passage, Freda and Brenda are watching a funeral from their window and their interaction gives away their personalities:

‘You cry easily,’ said Brenda, when they were dressing to go to the factory.
‘I like funerals. All those flowers – a full life coming to a close…’
‘She didn’t look as if she’d had a full life,’ said Brenda. ‘She only had the cat. There aren’t any mourners – no sons or anything.’
‘Take a lesson from it then. It could happen to you. When I go I shall have my family about me – daughters – sons – my husband, grey and distinguished, dabbing a handkerchief to his lips…’
‘Men always go first,’ said Brenda. ‘Women live longer.’
‘My dear, you ought to participate more. You are too cut off from life.’

See how Freda romanticize what she sees and projects her future and how Brenda remains practical and attempts to bring her back to reality? It’s typical.

Freda and Brenda work at the same bottle factory owned and managed by Mr Paganotti. He’s Italian and all the workers come from the same Italian village, except Patrick, an Irishman, Freda and Brenda.

Freda has a crush on Mr Paganotti’s nephew, Vittorio. He’s handsome, prances around the factory and flirts a little bit with Freda. She grows things out of proportion because she’s decided that he’s the perfect candidate for the handsome and rich husband she ambitions to marry.

She’s infatuated with him but she doesn’t know him well. In order to spend time with him outside of the factory, she organizes a factory outing on a weekend. But things don’t turn out so well…

Relationships between men and women are creepy in The Bottle Factory Outing just as they were in An Awfully Big Adventure.

Brenda was in an abusive marriage and even if nothing precise is revealed about her past, the reader guesses that it must have been pretty bad for Brenda to take action. And she’s barely started to work at the bottle factory for three days when she starts getting a lot of unwanted attention at work from Rossi, the foreman. She doesn’t know how to rebuff his advances because she doesn’t want to lose her job. Brenda the mouse also caught the attention of her coworker Patrick. He offers to fix her toilet to see her outside of work. At least this one seems respectful.

Freda has Vittorio’s attention but he’s unlikely to marry her and she sets herself up for deception. It’s a classic case of wishing to be the wife and being seen as a mistress. Usually, it only means a broken heart, nothing life-threatening. As far as Freda is concerned, the most disturbing events occur during the outing.

Beryl Bainbridge has a great sense of humour and it shows in her descriptions of her characters and of the outing. But the ending takes a very dark turn, one I didn’t expect. She’s an author who keeps her reader on their toes as her characters are a bit off, as they can sense that events are about to take a dramatic turn or that painful pasts lurk in the characters’ background.

This is a very well constructed novel.

Have you read books by her? What did you think of them? I still have The Dressmaker on the shelf.

Guy has reviewed several of them and his take on The Bottle Factory Outing is here.

  1. December 28, 2022 at 12:18 pm

    Ah, this is on my wishlist already!


    • December 28, 2022 at 12:52 pm

      It’s a good one. Have you read other books by her?


      • December 29, 2022 at 12:51 am

        Yes, I have. But nothing reviewed on the blog.
        Master Georgie (my favourite), plus An Awfully Big Adventure, A Quiet Life and Forever England. And I have The Birthday Boys on the TBR.


        • December 29, 2022 at 8:15 pm

          I see you’ve read a few by her. She should be better known.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. December 28, 2022 at 2:58 pm

    Greater Jew. I have never read Bainbridge but this has intrigued me. The dark turn puts me in mind of Muriel Spark, another author who was adept at the unexpected. One to look up, thanks.


    • December 28, 2022 at 4:06 pm

      The comparison with Muriel Spark is spot on. I hope you’ll enjoy Bainbridge.

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 28, 2022 at 8:07 pm

        Also “Greater Jew” should have read “great review”! I have no idea what happened with the autocorrect there. Apologies!


  3. December 28, 2022 at 5:05 pm

    I’m a fan of BB. Still have a few to read on the shelf. If you are ever interested: A Really Big Adventure. There’s a film version of The Dressmaker BTW.


    • December 28, 2022 at 8:59 pm

      I got her books after reading your reviews, so thanks for that.
      Next one will be The Dressmaker since I have it on the shelf.


  4. December 28, 2022 at 8:26 pm

    I’ve only read one Bainbridge I think, which was a recent short story, but I can certainly see how she developes her stories in a very dark direction. Since I like Spark’s darkness, I may have to try BB too!!


    • December 28, 2022 at 8:58 pm

      I think you’d enjoy her books, I’d be curious to read your review.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. December 29, 2022 at 11:25 am

    You’ve had me looking up The Bottle Factory Outing and Beryl Bainbridge on Wikipedia. Sounds like The BFO was written from life. I must see what my library has by her. Do the two women sleep in a double bed separated by a bolster? I remember reading that as a kid – about someone else – and trying to picture it (I didn’t know what a bolster was).


    • December 29, 2022 at 8:19 pm

      Wow, I didn’t know that the BFO was based on her life. I hope she wasn’t Brenda…

      You had me researching “bolster”, I didn’t know this word in English. Now that you mention it. They don’t sleep separated by a bolster (maybe because they don’t have one) but they have a book frontier between them. Isn’t that weird? Why do they dread touching each other that much?


  6. December 30, 2022 at 4:47 pm

    I’m a fan of Bainbridge but I do find her relationships often creepy and her writing so dark at times, as you say. You really reminded me of my experience reading this novel. Great review Emma!


    • December 31, 2022 at 8:49 am

      She really has a dark side and yes, she seems to thrive on writing about unhealthy relationships.
      Are her other books all like this?

      Liked by 1 person

      • December 31, 2022 at 10:13 am

        I’ve not read everything she wrote but I’ve read a lot – someone better read might disagree with me but I would say her earlier novels feature that dark tone and unhealthy relationships but her later historical novels shift perspective slightly. They’re still very psychological-focussed but less so about toxic romantic relationships.


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