Every Man for Himself
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If ever a subject and a writer were perfectly matched it is here. The fated voyage of the Titanic, with its heroics and horror, has been dramatized many times before, but never by an artist with the skills and sensibility of Beryl Bainbridge. Bainbridge vividly recreates each scene of the voyage, from the suspicious fire in the Number 10 coal bunker, to the champange and crystal of the first-class public rooms, to that terrible midnight chaos in the frigid North Atlantic. This is remarkable, haunting tale substantiates Bainbridge as a consummate observer of the human condition.
for Scurra’s scarred mouth. ‘That first time we spoke,’ I said, ‘when you took hold of my arm and asked who Scurra was . . . you seemed to think he’d been in a duel.’ ‘So he had. It accounts for his lip.’ ‘He told me he was bitten by a parrot in South Africa. And Archie Ginsberg thinks it was a blow from a rifle.’ ‘Bird, gun . . . who cares?’ said Rosenfelder. ‘It makes for interest,’ and he plunged into the water and sank upright, the bulge of his bathing cap bobbing like a lily-pad.
iron bolt of those half-closed shutters overlooking that stinking worm of water. Shivering in the icy air I leaned over the rail and on the instant was seized from behind. Scurra’s voice said, ‘No, Morgan. No.’ He spun me round. I couldn’t read the expression in his eyes because the lamp-light glittered on his spectacles, but for once he no longer smiled and the set of his riven mouth, so lewdly employed but twenty minutes before, was grimly purposeful. He wouldn’t let go of me, though I tried
night, to that landing from which an eternity ago Madame Butterfly had glimpsed a ship on the far horizon. The orchestra stood there now, playing for the benefit of those outside. They had assembled in a hurry; I could see the score in the carpet where the cellist had dragged up his instrument. Scurra sat below in the Palm Court, sprawled at a table with his legs stretched out. He was discussing the Peloponnesian War with Stead, the journalist. Neither of them took any notice of me. Mr Stead was
his own body without knowing it, but he soon feels the weight of any other object. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that a man cannot forget – but not himself.’ Then, before walking away, he said those other things, about it being the drop, not the height, that was terrible, and I left Charlie to God and went back up to the officers’ house. And now, the moment was almost upon us. The stern began to lift from the water. Guggenheim and his valet played mountaineers, going hand over hand up
the parasol, and then she too began to laugh. From where I stood I could see Captain Smith talking with the quartermaster on the deck above. I liked Smith, though I wasn’t sure I got his measure. I was sixteen when I first met him, the time my aunt had taken me to Europe on the SS Adriatic, then under his command. He’d owned a drooling dog which I took to exercising each day, throwing it ginger biscuits on the promenade deck. Being young and in need of sensation I often hoped the biscuit would