THE BRIDE’S FAREWELL is a novel about journeys, about the literal and figurative quest to find one’s place in the world. Not surprisingly, given its nearly constant sense of motion, the book starts out immediately with its heroine, Pell Ridley, leaving her childhood home in the dark of night. Pell, however, is no ordinary runaway. She’s leaving on the eve of her marriage to the neighborhood blacksmith’s son, Birdie, a simple man whose proposal represents hope to Pell’s impoverished, miserable family, but spells misery to Pell herself.
Pell leaves home with little but a handful of coins and her beloved horse, Jack. She is soon joined, however, by her adopted little brother, a watchful mute child known only as Bean. Pell has a mysterious affinity for horses, so she, Jack and Bean head to the Salisbury Fair, with little plan other than to find some sort of work during the famous horse market there. But little goes as planned at the fair --- Pell garners little attention other than as a woman traveling alone, and the gypsy family who befriends their small party has secrets of their own. When Pell’s one opportunity at a legitimate income goes horribly awry, she finds herself ever more adrift, dependent on the exceedingly rare kindness of strangers.
Left with no company other than a surprisingly useful gypsy dog, Pell wanders the British countryside, finding comfort in unexpected places but constantly questioning her place in the world, especially when her own mistrust prompts her to return to her childhood home in Nomansland --- where she discovers a world even more miserable and topsy-turvy than the one she left. As Pell continues her journey, she must discover for herself whether or not any people are worthy of the kind of trust she places in, and comfort she derives from, the animals in her life.
Set in a fictionalized but recognizable rural England in the mid-19th century, THE BRIDE’S FAREWELL may remind some readers of the works of Thomas Hardy (Pell’s name even bears some resemblance to Hardy’s famous heroine, Tess). Its straightforward plot and surprising connections also make the novel feel satisfyingly old-fashioned, while its somber but lyrical tone grants it an unexpected beauty at odds with its often grim subject matter.
As with her previous novels, Meg Rosoff’s latest treads the line between young adult and adult fiction. With its young heroine and quest narrative, THE BRIDE’S FAREWELL may seem aimed at young people, but its quiet loveliness and narrative power will appeal to readers of all ages. One gets the feeling that Rosoff, whose books have been marketed to both teenagers (as with the post-apocalyptic award-winner HOW I LIVE NOW) and adults (as this one is), writes not for particular audiences but for the pure power of the stories she’s telling, trusting that astute readers --- however old they are --- will find them and appreciate them.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 27, 2010
The Bride’s Farewell