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Brendan King

I am a freelance translator, editor and reviewer, with a special interest in late nineteenth century French literature. I completed my PhD on Huysmans’ life and work at Birkbeck College, London, in 2004.

I have published a number of translations of works by Huysmans for Dedalus Books: Là-bas (2001), Parisian Sketches (2004), Marthe (2006), Against Nature (2008), Stranded (2010), and The Vatard Sisters (2012). In 2006 I revised and annotated the second edition of Robert Baldick’s seminal biography The Life of J.-K. Huysmans (Dedalus Books), which was first published by the Clarendon Press in 1955 but has remained the definitive account of Huysmans' life ever since.

Between 1987 and 2010 I worked for the novelist Beryl Bainbridge, and helped her prepare a number of the novels she wrote during this period for publication, including The Birthday Boys (1991), Every Man for Himself (1996), Master Georgie (1998), and According to Queeney (2001). I also prepared the edition of the novel she was working on at the time of her death, The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress, from my copy of the working manuscript. Published by Little Brown in the UK in May 2011 and by Europa in the US in September of the same year, the Guardian described The Girl in the Polka-dot Dress as “a characteristically dark and mischievous slice of Beryl at her best,” and concluded that it was “a fitting finale and a poignant farewell” to her career as a writer. When I applied to do an M.A. in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College in 1998, Beryl provided me with the perfect character reference, which can be read by clicking here.

In an interview with Mark Bostridge, published in 2004 in his book Lives for Sale under the title ‘Waiting for the Biographer’, Beryl Bainbridge speculated on the possibility of a biography being written about her: “Somebody did ask fairly recently if they could write my biography, and I was pretty astounded, and wondered why anyone should want to do it, and what the point of it would be. My reaction is, ‘I'm the only person who knows what it was like, so how can anyone else write it?’ So I said no. My excuse was that I have a secretary, Brendan King, and as far as the writing life goes, he knows me better than anybody, because he's been coming here for the last 15 or 16 years. I'm not sure that he's keen on the idea, but if Brendan wanted to do it, I'd have difficulty saying no...”

With this in mind, I began working on a full-length biography of Beryl Bainbridge shortly after her death. The result, Beryl Bainbdrige: Love by All Sorts of Means, was published in September 2016 by Bloomsbury Continuum. To purchase the hardback, click here. To purchase the paperback, click here.

I am currently collecting material for a projected volume of Beryl's correspondence. Anyone who wishes to pass on their recollections of Beryl or share any letters or documents they have relating to her life, can contact me by clicking here.

Reaction to Beryl Bainbridge: Love By All Sorts of Means

“This vivid biography details a complicated private life, from which emerged novels that rank as major achievements in English fiction...King, who worked as Bainbridge's assistant throughout the last 23 years of her life, weaves a gripping narrative frpm her entanglements with men...compassionate and authoritative.” Dinah Birch, The Guardian.

“...this superb first biography...Finishing this biography, we'll know quite enough to see for ourselves that the comical bizarreness of the masterly fiction had inspiration aplenty in the chaos, breakdowns and excesses of [Bainbridge's] daily existence.” Roger Lewis, The Times.

“King is uniquely fitted to write about her...and he has had unlimited access to her huge collection of letters, diaries and journals. I cannot think of another biography that plunders its subject's privacy to such an illuminating degree.” John Carey, The Sunday Times.

“Brendan King...has written a first rate biography of his employer...[he] gets the tone absolutely right.” Valerie Grove, Evening Standard.

“Conscientious...detailed...fair and kind...King, who worked with Bainbridge as an amanuensis for more than 20 years, notes how certain stories and characters from her life were threaded into her novels.” New Statesman.

“Sympathetic, even-handed and illuminating...The biography's most fascinating revelation is about Bainbridge's relationship with her publishers Colin and Anna Haycraft (the novelist Alice Thomas Ellis).” Kate Kellaway, Observer.

“Brendan King's biography of Beryl Bainbridge gets so close to its subject without being hagiography. My book of the year.” Linda Grant, Twitter.

“What King has achieved in this calm and careful biography is a portrait of Bainbridge's imagination. He tells the sequential story of her life and loves, but shows too how her creativity rebelled against the rules of linear time. She wrote and she painted so that what had happened would always be happening, fixed in a less transient frame than her own frail body.” Ruth Scurr, Times Literary Supplement.

“As Brendan King demonstrates in his astonishing new biography [which] draws on materials from Bainbridge’s British Library archives, her beautifully expressive correspondence and her laboratory stores...Writing to a friend about her doomed explorer in The Birthday Boys, Bainbridge explained, 'I think life is just another cock-up, heroic but unplanned, much like poor old Scott going off with such hopes, such bravery, such stupendous, awful stubbornness in search of a mythical pole.' You have to laugh, or you’ll cry. The best of Bainbridge’s fiction — and this marvelous biography — invites us to do both.” James Fisher, Washington Post.

“In the biography’s final sections, King occasionally enters the narrative in a Boswellian fashion. He lacks anything like his subject’s 'impressive concision,' but he does succeed in offering a vivid and detailed — and often harrowing — story.” Thomas Mallon, New York Times.