The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress

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by Beryl Bainbridge
     
 

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In the tumultuous spring of 1968 a young English woman, Rose, travels from London to the United States to meet a man she knows as Washington Harold. In her suitcase are a polka dot dress and a one-way ticket. In an America recently convulsed by the April assassination of Martin Luther King and subsequent urban riots, they begin a search for the charismatic and

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Overview

In the tumultuous spring of 1968 a young English woman, Rose, travels from London to the United States to meet a man she knows as Washington Harold. In her suitcase are a polka dot dress and a one-way ticket. In an America recently convulsed by the April assassination of Martin Luther King and subsequent urban riots, they begin a search for the charismatic and elusive Dr. Wheeler- sage, prophet and, possibly, redeemer-who rescued Rose from a dreadful childhood and against whom Harold holds a seething grudge.

As they follow their quarry cross-country in a camper they encounter the odd remnants of Wheeler acolytes who harbor festering cultural and political grievances. Along the way, a famous artist is shot in New York, mutilated soldiers are evacuated from Vietnam, race hatred explodes in ghettos and suburbs and casual madness blossoms at revival meetings.

Many believe America's only hope is presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, whose campaign trail echoes Rose and Harold's pilgrimage. Both will conclude in Los Angeles at the Ambassador Hotel one infamous night in June.

Subversive, sinister and marvelously vivid, Beryl Bainbridge's great last novel evokes a nation on the brink of self-destruction with artful brilliance.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In Bainbridge's (1932–2010) final, unfinished novel, she transports readers to the spring of 1968. In this era of high-profile assassinations Rose, a damaged young Englishwoman, arrives in Baltimore to begin a cross-country odyssey in search of Dr. Wheeler, a member of Robert Kennedy's entourage. Rose met Wheeler in the U.K. and fell somewhat in love, as he provided much needed solace from her unhappy life: warring parents, a child taken away and given up for adoption. Accompanying Rose on her trip is Washington Harold, a friend of a friend, who also seeks Wheeler, but his motives are more sinister: Washington Harold's wife committed suicide after having an affair with Wheeler, and he wants revenge. The story reaches its apogee in L.A. at the Ambassador Hotel, where the private fates of these two people collide with RFK's very public one. Assembled by Bainbridge's editor from her manuscript after her death, this is a novel that the author longed to complete; the pacing isn't always right and the characters could be more sharply defined. Still, for lovers of Bainbridge's oeuvre, this is the book that places the period at the end of her life's work and shouldn't be missed. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In this posthumous novel, British author Bainbridge paints a hypothetical picture of what might have been happening in 1968 America amid the turmoil of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Through young English Rose and her unlikely companion, known to her as Washington Harold, the reader is taken on a cross-country trip in search of the elusive Dr. Wheeler, an acquaintance of both. Along the way, the pair always seem one step behind their mysterious quarry and meet a host of interesting characters who all have a link to this man. Rose wants to find Dr. Wheeler because he is the one stable and bright spot from her troubled childhood. Washington's reasons for finding Dr. Wheeler do not become clear until a surprise ending. All aspects of this novel come together in an exciting and curious encounter with presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. VERDICT Both vivid and dark, this page-turner is sure to be sought after by both historical fiction and mystery lovers. Highly recommended.—Leann Restaino, Girard, OH
Kirkus Reviews

The last novel from English author Bainbridge, who died in July 2010.

Against the chaotic backdrop of 1968 America, a young British woman, Rose, and an angry widower pursue an elusive figure, admired and mythologized by her and murderously despised by him, from East Coast to West, a pursuit that culminates (though it doesn't quite end) at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. on the June night when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Rose has come to the U.S. in search of Dr. Wheeler, who seems (all exposition in this book comes through a glass, darkly) to have been her protector during an awful adolescence. She is met in Baltimore and accompanied on her search—it's akind ofaccompaniment thatresembles hostage-holding—by someoneshe knows only as Washington Harold, an ill-tempered, secretive man whose wife had an affair with Wheeler and then committed suicide. Harold is, as the sometimessavvyand sometimes childishly self-absorbed Rose seems to intuit, using her; he intends to take revenge. Everywhere they go along the way they encounter mayhem and threat—a botched bank robbery in which a gun is held toRose's head, killings, near-riots, racial animus. Bainbridge died before she could finish her 17th novel, and toward the end, especially, this odd, angular picaresque feels chaotic and choppy. Still, it shows off the author's gifts for compression and dark, deadpan wit. Behindit all rest thesinister and violent undertones that discomfit the reader from first page to last.

Unfinished, but a fitting and worthy coda to a storied career.

The last novel from English author Bainbridge, who died in July 2010.

Against the chaotic backdrop of 1968 America, a young British woman, Rose, and an angry widower pursue an elusive figure, admired and mythologized by her and murderously despised by him, from East Coast to West, a pursuit that culminates (though it doesn't quite end) at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. on the June night when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. Rose has come to the U.S. in search of Dr. Wheeler, who seems (all exposition in this book comes through a glass, darkly) to have been her protector during an awful adolescence. She is met in Baltimore and accompanied on her search—it's akind ofaccompaniment thatresembles hostage-holding—by someoneshe knows only as Washington Harold, an ill-tempered, secretive man whose wife had an affair with Wheeler and then committed suicide. Harold is, as the sometimessavvyand sometimes childishly self-absorbed Rose seems to intuit, using her; he intends to take revenge. Everywhere they go along the way they encounter mayhem and threat—a botched bank robbery in which a gun is held toRose's head, killings, near-riots, racial animus. Bainbridge died before she could finish her 17th novel, and toward the end, especially, this odd, angular picaresque feels chaotic and choppy. Still, it shows off the author's gifts for compression and dark, deadpan wit. Behindit all rest thesinister and violent undertones that discomfit the reader from first page to last.

Unfinished, but a fitting and worthy coda to a storied career.

Michael Dirda
…at once witty, engrossing and macabre…In the end, The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress is strong on atmosphere, incident and wit, while remaining rather nebulous and tantalizing in its plot and resolution…Still, you'll almost certainly enjoy Beryl Bainbridge's dry humor and her book's pervasive sense of menace. It's an odd combination, but Bainbridge brings it off beautifully.
—The Washington Post
William Boyd
…what colors and defines the world of Bainbridge's novels is this…sense and relish of the absurd, the perverse and the inexplicable. People are very odd, her fiction repeatedly tells us…Curiously, its incompleteness doesn't diminish this short, haunting novel…The novel functions in the same way as Camus's Étranger or Beckett's Waiting for Godot…The unanswered questions add to its mystery and strange power.
—The New York Times Book Review

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781609450564
Publisher:
Europa
Publication date:
08/30/2011
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
734,740
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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