|Beryl Bainbridge at home in Camden Town, London, in 1998, the year Master Georgie was nominated for the Man Booker prize. Photograph: David Levenson|
Beryl Bainbridge a Booker winner at last
Master Georgie wins 'Best of Beryl' Booker for author shortlisted five times for Man Booker prize, which she never won
Tue 19 April 2011
Pipped to the post in 1998 by Ian McEwan's Amsterdam, the late Beryl Bainbridge's historical novel Master Georgie has finally won the much-loved author a Booker prize.
Branded the eternal Booker bridesmaid, Bainbridge was shortlisted five times for the Man Booker prize between 1973 and 1998 but never won.
Following her death last July, aged 75, organisers of the award decided to honour an author who had made the shortlist more frequently than any other writer by creating a "Best of Beryl" Booker, and asked the public to vote for their favourite of Bainbridge's shortlisted books.
Over 1,000 readers voted in the contest, with Master Georgie squeaking in just ahead of Every Man for Himself, published in 1996. The other titles in the running were all older novels: The Dressmaker (1973), The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), and An Awfully Big Adventure (1990).
Set during the filth and misery of the Crimean war, Master Georgie tells of the adventures of surgeon and photographer George Hardy as he leaves London for the Bosphurus, trailed by his adoptive sister Myrtle, lapsed geologist Dr Potter and photographer's assistant and fire-eater Pompey Jones. The Times said on publication: "It is hard to think of anyone now writing who understands the human heart as Beryl Bainbridge does."
Ion Trewin, literary director of the Booker and a former judge, said: "I have a feeling that, wherever she is now, she'll be hugging herself and saying 'gosh, how lovely'. Over the years when she didn't win, she thought oh well, and had another puff on a cigarette and a drink. But to win – well, I can't believe it would give her anything other than immense pleasure.
He added: "She may have been known as the eternal Booker bridesmaid, but we are delighted to be able finally to crown Master Georgie a Booker bride."
Trewin announced Master Georgie's success at a party in Soho on Tuesday evening, where Bainbridge's daughter Jojo Davies and grandson Charlie Russell accepted a one-off designer-bound copy of the book as the prize on behalf of the family.
"There were fewer than 100 votes between first and fifth so it was a very close-run thing," said Trewin. "It just demonstrates that her books are pretty universally loved. As far as I'm concerned Master Georgie is an absolutely terrific choice, but I could have chosen any of the other four too."
Bainbridge wrote 17 novels, from her debut, A Weekend with Claud (1967), to her final work, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, which will be published posthumously by Little, Brown in June. Set around the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the author was putting the finishing touches to it when she died.
"Not all that many writers, over a 50-year career, can still be turning out absolutely first-rate writing," said Trewin. "She just went on writing great novels."
Although Bainbridge missed out on the Booker, she was a two-time winner of the Whitbread award. Master Georgie won the author the WH Smith literary award and the James Tait Black memorial prize. She was made a DBE in 2000.