March 2013

When I said this novel reminded me of Shakespeare, I got some very peculiar looks. It’s the first Bainbridge novel I have read, but I understand she likes to take historic events and write her novels around them. Just like Shakespeare. Her main characters, young Rose straight off the plane from Kentish Town, and ‘Washington’ Harold, an older fellow with a beard like dead daffodils, travel from coast to coast across the US following Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. In the process they meet all sorts and conditions of people who are involved in their own lives and dramas, but who always have some time to share their hopes, disappointments, wild fancies, politics, theories or philosophies, which may not particularly move the story forward, but which makes them much more than bit players. Just like Shakespeare.

Rose and Harold, each for reasons of his own, are searching for an old friend, Dr Wheeler, who they have been reliably informed is a member of Kennedy’s entourage. They do make it to Los Angeles, Kennedy’s last stop, but the novel ends there, ambiguously for some, ‘abruptly’ is how others describe it.

Truth told, Bainbridge did not live long enough to finish the book. She asked her doctors to give her 30 more days, but sadly had to settle for a last meeting with her editor a few days before she died. We can only assume that they decided to publish without any sketchy or spurious material. So we spent a very enjoyable part of the evening speculating how she might have wrapped it up.

Yet a road trip novel is about the road trip. It doesn’t really matter how it ends and that is certainly the case here. For my part, I liked how it kept our focus on Rose and Harold, their odd-couple relationship and the freshness of their exchanges with the other oddballs along the way.

We meet again on Thursday, 11th April to discuss My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult.

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