Every Man for Himself

Written by Beryl Bainbridge
Review by Bruce Macbain

This is a fictionalized account of the sinking of the Titanic, originally published in 1996 and now reissued, as have been so many other books on the subject, to coincide with the centenary of the disaster. Beryl Bainbridge was a distinguished writer and this book either won, or was a finalist for, a number of prestigious awards.

It is with some diffidence, then, that I confess that I didn’t like it. The book is nine-tenths over before the ship hits the iceberg, and I found myself increasingly impatient with the convoluted relationships of a cast of fictitious characters whom I could neither believe in nor care about—despite the fact that they are all doomed but don’t know it. The first-person narrator is a callow young American who is born and raised in poverty until it is discovered somehow that he is related to millionaire J. P. Morgan. His fellow passengers include a caricatured Jewish tailor, an international man of mystery, an opera diva with a dark past, and a number of interchangeable bright young things.

How much more interesting were the real passengers—the Astors, Strauses, and Guggenheims—who here only flit through the background! And when the catastrophe does finally occur, the narrative is, to my ear anyway, surprisingly flat. This is, in my humble opinion, a book to forget about the Night to Remember.