The Bride's Farewell is set in mid-19th century Wiltshire and tells the story of runaway bride Pell. Pell's family is trapped in hopeless poverty, whiThe Bride's Farewell is set in mid-19th century Wiltshire and tells the story of runaway bride Pell. Pell's family is trapped in hopeless poverty, while her husband-to-be Bridie comes from a family that is "hard-working, honest and resourceful". They have been friends since childhood and it's assumed that they will be married one day, but Pell looks at her mother, exhausted from childbearing and disappointment, and rejects the future she represents. Because she can't bring herself to refuse Bridie outright, Pell runs away on the morning of their wedding, taking her white horse and her adopted brother Bean, who insists on accompanying her. But she knows the farrier's craft and has a gift with horses, and these talents will be her currency.
Pell's journey is episodic – she meets a gypsy family, the trader Harris, a poacher called Dogman; she loses her horse and her brother and the five pounds she earned at Salisbury fair. Her path crosses and recrosses that of characters she's met earlier as she searches for what she's lost and the story is played out in "an intricate game of hide and seek across Salisbury Plain". Her story is interspersed with flashbacks which recount the history of Pell's family. Although these scenes are vividly evoked, they don't feel necessary and they slow down the story. Do we really need to know so much about Pell's four brothers, all dead before the novel begins?
This novel is so beautifully written that its flaws didn't strike me until after I finished it. Pell is a wonderfully resourceful and independent heroine, but her feelings were often murky, and at times I found it difficult to understand what she wanted. The main storyline is her ongoing quest as she searches for what she's lost and tries to find safety and security for her younger siblings, dispersed after a disaster strikes the family home. There is a romantic subplot which could have illuminated Pell's struggle to choose the future she wants for herself, except that her feelings aren't fully explored. The relationship seems to offer a happy balance between companionship and solitude; she feels content and free and allows for "the possibility that her condition resembled love", but I was never sure whether she wanted the relationship or simply accepted it. Although unconventional, it comes to resemble marriage, which she was running away from at the beginning of the story. Near the end of the novel there is a hint that she's pregnant, but it's not clear whether she still dreads the future she saw when she looked at her mother's worn-out body. Is it different because she's found a man she can truly love? Or has Pell's journey simply led her, by a circuitous route, to accept the fate she was trying to escape? The Bride's Farewell came close to being a brilliant novel, but left too many unanswered questions....more
This novel tells a story in which Jesus was a twin, born to Mary in Bethlehem along with his brother, Christ. It recounts the familiar events of the NThis novel tells a story in which Jesus was a twin, born to Mary in Bethlehem along with his brother, Christ. It recounts the familiar events of the New Testament in beautiful, timeless prose, as Christ watches his wayward, rebellious brother begin his ministry and gather a following of disciples. Christ is encouraged by a mysterious stranger to follow Jesus at a distance, writing down what he says and does, and to begin to shape the stories he's written into a narrative that will have lasting power and meaning.
I found my sympathies shifting throughout this book. Initially the brother "Jesus" is somewhat unlikeable so I felt more empathy with the sensitive "Christ". But as Christ becomes fearful and reluctant to take a stand, I found myself siding with Jesus, who challenges those who believe that they cannot effect change in their world. A scene near the end of the book, the only scene told from Jesus's point of view, illuminates his inner struggle with his own faith. "If anyone can smell frying fish on an evening by the lake, or feel a cool breeze on a hot day, or see a little animal trying to run around and tumbling over and getting up again, or kiss a pair of soft and willing lips, if anyone can feel those things and still maintain they're nothing but crude imperfect copies of soomething much better in another world, they are slandering you, Lord...."
Ultimately the power of this novel lies in what it's saying about how storytellers seek to find the truth and shape meaning from stories. Christ betrays his brother in the end because, in wanting to preserve Jesus's memory, he shapes the story of his life to give it "more profound narrative consequence" even though he recognises himself that "...it will be a tragedy. His vision could never come to pass; and the vision that will come to pass is not his."...more
This is a beautiful, heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming book. It tells the story of Shell, whose mother has died and father has become religiThis is a beautiful, heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming book. It tells the story of Shell, whose mother has died and father has become religiously obsessed, leaving Shell to look after the house and her younger brother and sister. When her mother died Shell lost her religious faith, but the arrival of a young priest, Father Rose, in her small Irish town inspires her to see the divine in her everyday existence.
The novel believably portrays the relationships between the characters: Shell and her siblings, her father, and her growing intimacy with her childhood friend Declan. When Declan leaves for New York and Shell finds herself pregnant, she decides to keep the pregnancy secret, with devastating consequences. But she also finds support and acceptance from her siblings and unexpected kindness from others in her small town.
This book is lyrically written and Shell's character and viewpoint drives the story, lifting it above the bleak events of the plot. This is one of the best books I have ever read and I found it so difficult to put it down when I was finished that I went back and read it again from the beginning (something I can only remember doing once before). I would unreservedly recommend this novel.
The author died tragically young of breast cancer in 2007, having published only 4 novels. The royalties from her books support the Siobhan Dowd Trust, which works to "ensure that disadvantaged children and young people have access to books, experience the joy of reading and develop their literacy to safeguard their future"....more