When my aunt handed me her copy of this book not five years ago, she told me that she can’t fathom what the award-winning author, Meg Rosoff, wanted to say when she created the story of Pell Ridley. Now that I’ve read the first 90 pages and instinctively skimmed the remaining 95 pages, I can understand her meaning. I even looked at the publishing reference to find out which publishing house bought the rights to this book (Penguin Books) out of mild amusement and a bit of disbelief that a book with very little depth and magic can actually be published.
On the cover of The Bride’s Farewell are the promising words of the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time , Mark Haddon: Magical and utterly faultless. Rosoff’s grammar was definitely faultless, but to describe her fourth novel as magical would be an inaccuracy.
The story is about Pell Ridley, a runaway bride who, with her adopted brother, Bean, went to a horse fair in Salisbury to look for work. Bean, who was mute, does not make a good companion for the journey so there was very little dialogue between the siblings along the way. There was also little urgency to speed along or to hide. No worries of being discovered by their father in the next town. Brother and sister and their horse, Jack, moved along like it was the most ordinary thing to do on the morning of Pell’s wedding.
The first sign that told me this book is not for me is when Rosoff described almost everything that Pell saw on the road to and at Salisbury, a method that writers use to set the mood of the story, except that she filled every chapter with meaningless observations of life at the fair, not images that actually tell something about the time and place or at least move the story along. For readers like me who search for more insight about the characters and their motivations and the world they live in, that can be a bit hard to take for two reasons. First, there’s nothing original about describing what is happening in the environment especially when the character has nothing to offer than superficial commentary. Second, it is boring to be reading about what a character managed to eat every night at a fair and how comfortable or not she is in her makeshift dwelling.
The second sign that this book is not for me is the seeming lack of plot. Is finding out that her childhood home was burned down a plot? Is losing her brother, Bean, at the fair a plot? Obviously not, but that’s all that was happening in the story that remotely drives Pell to do what she needs to do. They are not enough to make me curious about what happens in the next page because they don’t reveal anything about Pell or the complexity of her love for her family.
It’s frustrating to read a character you can’t know very well through her thoughts or actions. Even at the end, I don’t know if Pell wanted to get married to the hunter she met. Does she love him or does she just need him to survive?
Overall, there’s no fairy tale magic here, but just a lot of unexpressed and unexplored depth of emotions.