An Awfully Big Adventure opens with a mystery. A girl, who we soon discover is Stella Bradshaw, insists she's "not the only one at fault" whilst an adult, Rose, declares "God forgive us, but it'll be good for business." Beryl Bainbridge then slowly reveals the events that have led to this tragic occurrence, and explains what Stella's role has been.
The story is set in a Liverpool repertory theatre company shortly after WW2, inspired by Bainbridge's own experiences working at the Liverpool Playhouse. Stella's Uncle Vernon encourages her to take up acting and takes her to the theatre for a job. Meredith the director, and Bunny the stage manager make it " plain to Stella that neither man liked the look of her", but spite of this, the girl develops an unrequited crush on Meredith.
It's worth noting that the book's title is a reference to Peter Pan, and the Epigraph quotes several lines spoken by The Lost Boys, which is one of the plays staged by the theatre company. Stella's own mother "lost" her, and much of the girl's character is defined by this. The story also deals with relationships and sex from a humorous, working class perspective. Stella's sexual knowledge is gleaned from library books, which told her "Penetration [-] was inescapably painful unless one had played a lot of tennis or ridden stallions." Her attitude was that "It had to happen sometime and now was as good a time as any. She wanted to get it over with." People like her didn't talk about these things, "Emotions weren't like washing. There was no call to peg them out for all the world to view."
It's the second Beryl Bainbridge book I've read, the first being The Bottle Factory Outing. Both deserve a second reading, as it took several chapters to get into them. In An Awfully Big Adventure, there are an awful lot of characters to remember, and it didn't help that two names, Dotty and Dawn, were similar. The writing style can suddenly jump from one scene to another without warning, as does the narrative point of view. However, by half way through I was hooked, and the ending was very satisfying.