Monday, 22 October 2012

A Dinner Party from Hell

This is my copy, found in the Oxfam
Book Shop, published by Fontana.

Injury Time by Beryl Bainbridge features a dinner party from hell. Forget 'Abigail's Party', this is far, far worse. Accountant Edward Freeman has agreed to have a meal at the home of his mistress Binny and, at her insistence, has invited along another couple, which obviously makes for a rather difficult situation. He tells his wife he may be working late (again) and reckons he won't arouse her suspicions because he'll be home at a reasonable time.

But things don't go according to plan. First there is the unexpected arrival of Binny's friend Alma, who is fond of 'little swiggies' of whisky (or any other alcohol that's available). Then a gang of armed bank robbers burst through the door and things go from bad to worse as the disparate group is held hostage. While police, reporters and the general public gather outside, a grim drama is played out inside.

As you would expect from Bainbridge, it's darkly funny: she's a keen observer of the absurdities of human behaviour, and portrays them with an ascerbic wit. Take Binnie's attitude towards her son and daughters. We may not like to admit it, and wouldn't express in these terms, but I'm sure most mothers have felt like this at some stage:

Being consantly with the children was like wearing a pair of shoes that were expensive and too small. She couldn't bear to throw them out, but they gave her blisters.

Bainbridge is also good on setting the scene. Perhaps it's due to her early days with a repertory company, but she describes places as if they were stage sets. The view outside is bleak: there are eggshells in the hedge, barbed wire in the garden (to keep the cats out) and when the curtains fell down Binny never replaced them. The view of urban decay is reflected inside Binny's grimy, untidy home by the decay of hope and love.

Over the course of a few hours the captives build a relationship with their captors – despite the horror of the situation, they seem to feel a degree of sympathy for the robbers, and they accept what is happening. They seem apathetic, yet at the same time they almost welcome the intrusion, which brings excitement into their lives.

I prefer this cover!
Ginger and Harry entered the room. Edward caught himself noding. It was like growing familiar with people on the television – actors, celebrities – and then seeing them on the tube or in a restaurant. One imagined one knew them socially.

They don't question their unwelcome guests, or make judgements about them – unlike the robbers themselves, who are horrified by Binny's lack of housewifely skills, and the fact that she is having an affair with a married man.

As time passes secrets come to light, and relationships shift and change, but no-one fully engages with anyone else – indeed, I don't think they ever did. The hostages remain passive: there is little they can do to escape or take control, but they have lost control of their lives long, long ago.

Things happen for no particular reason, and there is never an explanation, but life is never tidy and clear-cut.


  1. Isn't it a strange, but (as you say) darkly funny book? I loved reading it.

    1. It's very odd indeed, and the subject matter is not at all funny, so I felt a bit guilty for laughing. Binny and Edward are such an unlikely couple to be having an affair, and the robbers are really rather inept. I wondered how they arrived at Binny's home (especially as she actually made eye contact with one in the bank - design or accident?). It reminded me of the Steptoe episode where the escaped convicts arrive in the junk yard, only to find Harold and his father have no money, no cigarettes, and nothing to eat except cold porridge...

  2. I read a good many of BB's novels during BB week, but not this one. It sounds perfect and right up my street so many thanks!

    1. Do read it, I'm sure you will like it.Definitely black humour, and she says lot in very few words.