“The Bride’s Farewell”
Author: Meg Rosoff.
Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): On the morning of her wedding, Pell Ridley creeps out of bed in the dark, kisses her sisters goodbye and flees — determined to escape a future that offers nothing but hard work and sorrow. She takes the only thing that truly belongs to her: Jack, a white horse, and small mute Bean who refuses to be left behind.
The road ahead is rich with longing, silence and secrets, and each encounter leads her closer to the untold story of her past. Then Pell meets a hunter, infuriating, mysterious and cold. Will he help her to find what she seeks?
With all the hallmarks of Meg Rosoff’s extraordinary writing, “The Bride’s Farewell” also breaks new ground for this author, in a nineteenth-century, Hardyesque setting. This is a moving story of love and lost things, with a core of deep, beautiful romance.
Cover impressions: I love Meg Rosoff’s work. “How I Live Now” and “Just In Case” were refreshing and vibrant, with a fascinating layer of unease throughout the simple but highly effective prose. Both books received mass acclaim, both from teens and adults, and many literary awards, such as the Carnegie Medal and Printz Award. I highly recommend her first two books to anyone in search of a book that proves YA can be just as moving, surprising and intriguing as anything intended for adults. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing for “The Bride’s Farewell.”
As always, Rosoff’s prose is wonderful, managing to be deceptively simple but striking and void of overt sentimentality. It’s certainly the strongest thing about this short book but great prose isn’t enough to make a story worthwhile. After a strong start and the initial establishment of a strong, independent heroine, the story quickly loses momentum and dissolves into many paragraphs of exposition and summaries more suited to a “Previously on...” introduction to a TV series than a novella. There is no real strong narrative to the novella; instead, we are left with chapter after chapter describing each unconnected thing Pell does, occasionally meandering off for a little exposition on a barely developed character of no real importance. I can’t blame the short length of the story for this since many wonderful novellas and short stories have been written before this that manage to get in ten times more characterisation and plot. Pell’s introduction started off so strong but quickly fell apart as it felt like Rosoff became bored with her own story and characters. So little time is spent allowing Pell to grow – and the few decisions she does make later on seem at direct odds with her early characterisation - and by the end of the book I felt apathetic towards her fate. I had similar feelings, or lack thereof, towards the supporting cast, who are so thinly drawn they’re transparent. Many of these characters also veered wildly into caricature territory. Almost every man in the story is a philandering drunk who does not care for his numerous children, while anyone who openly talks of faith and God is usually a ranting fool with no regard for kindness or basic human decency. Not only were such descriptions borderline offensive, they were also plain lazy. When the reader is asked to sympathise with one particular case – a man who abandoned his wife and child and only comes back to see his son to teach him to ‘be a man’ and hunt – because he becomes the designated love interest, it’s hard to stomach.
My biggest problem with the book came with the story. As I said before, there really is no strong narrative structure to “The Bride’s Farewell” as Pell meanders from one place to another, but almost everything that happens in this story is misery porn. If something’s going to go wrong then chances are it will. Pell is mistreated, mocked, left to starve, robbed, cheated, the whole shebang. Almost every woman that Pell encounters, no matter how long they appear for, immediately mistrusts her or believes her to be out to steal their men with her beauty, another lazy character element that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I am fine with unflinching unsentimentality, many writers have made masterpieces from such plot choices, but here it feels lifeless and completely pointless. Pell doesn’t grow as a character because of these events, she doesn’t become a stronger person (actually, I think she becomes even more downtrodden and submissive than before), so to pack this short book with such defeated angst for no reason feels like bad storytelling. It’s such a disappointment because I know Rosoff is capable of brilliance.
Someone asked me if it was worth reading a bad book if it had one truly wonderful redeeming feature, in this case the prose. Even though I think Rosoff is a wonderful writer and her prose is always strong, in the case of “The Bride’s Farewell”, it’s just not worth it. Great prose cannot singlehandedly support lazy characterisation, clumsy plotting and a story that seems more concerned with making its characters miserable than allowing them to truly grow. I cannot recommend Rosoff’s other books highly enough so I recommend you pick those wonderful pieces of YA up to read instead of this one, which I hope is merely a minor speed bump in her career.