Ever since I read Meg Rosoff’s fantastic dystopian YA novel How I Live Now I’ve planned on picking up another of her books. The desperate, traumatic, and epic-feeling story and the well-drawn characters sparked my interest initially; but it was the lovely, sparse writing which totally engulfed me and urgently pressed me to try another Rosoff novel. And the gorgeously despairing cover, the alluring historical British setting, and the doomed runaway bride premise of The Bride’s Farewell made it just the one.
It’s the morning of Pell Ridley’s wedding, and she’s creeping out of the bed she shares with her three sisters and onto her horse Jack. Although Birdie says he loves her, she cannot marry him or anyone for that matter. She will not be her mother, abused and starved, bearing child after child to her drunken, good-for-nothing preacher father. So without much thought for where she will go or what she will do, Pell’s off to the horse trading at Salisbury Fair, but not without the company of her mute younger brother Bean, who follows her out the door.
“The open road. What a trio of words. What a vision of blue sky and untouched hills and narrow trails heading God knew where and being free – free and hungry, free and cold, free and wet, free and lost. Who could mourn such conditions, faced with the alternatives?”
But being free involves even more suffering than she anticipated, and Pell’s hardships are mounting – consequences or not – and she will learn that maybe we can’t or don’t ever truly wish to be free from our childhood and familial ties.
Like all of Rosoff’s novels, I didn’t know what to expect when opening The Bride’s Farewell. I made sure I was in the mood for something dreary and possibly tragic but hopeful and totally different than anything I’ve ever read. I expected to savor the writing, and I did. Certain passages just struck me in their sharp depictions and poetic imagery. At barely over 200 pages its short but feels much longer and bigger than the few months the story covers. Pell is hard to decipher but likable in her tenacious will and unbreakable spirit. In the face of starvation, exhaustion, exposure, loss, and shame, she is ever patient and submitting in her search for work and a new life. Her kinship with horses and talent for horsemanship is admirable. I have almost no experience with horses but I was interested in all the breeds, temperaments, and delicate ways of grooming. The book also offered a new picture for me of 1850s Britain; the lowest of the lower class, the nomadic gypsies, and small rural town culture. Some of these images will stick with me. While the ending to Pell and Bean’s story was fitting and offered some closure and sweetness after all that was bitter, the story left me somewhat underwhelmed in its simplicity and regrettably will not stay with me as much as I would’ve liked. Still, I would recommend it selectively and Rosoff definitely wins a prize for her unique and memorable character names. Daisy, Piper, Pell, Bean, Dogman, and Dicken the dog are all names that strike the perfect chord of uncommon but appropriate and even beloved.