Short novel by Beryl Bainbridge
, first published in 1989. Its title derives from the line "To die would be an awfully big adventure
", uttered by Peter Pan
in the eponimous
play and novel, and the plot revolves around the production of this play in Liverpool
just after WWII
The novel's young heroine, Stella, is a moody, introspective, fanciful and, to be perfectly honest, rather unpleasant girl who was raised by a childless aunt and uncle and who enters the theatre company as an assistant stage manager. She quickly becomes enamoured with the young director of the company (whose homosexuality is constantly implied, but never declared), Meredith. In an attempt to prepare herself for what she considers an inevitable affair with him, she loses her virginity to O'Hara, a much older man who has something of a hero status among the other actors and who was drafted in a hurry to play Captain Hook in the Christmas production of the play.
O'Hara himself is a deeply tormented and complex man with no love for anything but his fading and rather pathetic memories of his youth in Liverpool and a young woman he had fallen in love with there. He feels an irresistible attraction to, almost an obsession with Stella, who only gives him the time of day to better her knowledge of men and try and make Meredith jealous.
All the characters in this book have turbulent and painful relationships. Meredith himself is carrying on a mysterious and tumultuous affair with a young man called Hilary, which Stella at one point tries to sabotage. The other actors in the company are all entangled in doomed or loveless relationships, and even Stella's relationship with her loving and well meaning uncle is fraught with angst and acrimony. She is also obviously disturbed over the dissapearance of her real mother and her infrequent contact with her. Love gone wrong is the backdrop of the entire novel, together with the drabness and lifelessness of post-war England.
I will not spoil the ending by providing the details of it, suffice it to say that it is surprising and dramatic. Not an easy book to read, it is nevertheless a gem of characterisation and captures portraits of people in despair to perfection. It has been made into a wonderful film of the same title, directed by Mike Newell and featuring outstanding preformances from Alan Rickman as O'Hara and Hugh Grant as a vicious, dissipated, neurotic Meredith - his best work to date.