Perfectly evoked atmosphere is combined here with a story rich in the complicated tapestry of family love.
It suddenly dawned upon me the other day that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d picked up a book I fancied the look of and read it simply on that basis. It seems like these days my books choices are all premeditated, chosen for their current relevance. Therefore when I stumbled upon a copy of Mary Lawson’s The other Side of the Bridge and liked the look of it, yet knowing not a thing about it, I decided to go with my instinct and give it ago. Perhaps I need to do this more often because what a thrilling and enjoyable read it turned out to be.
The other side of the bridge is the perfectly told story of sibling rivalry set within the sleepy rural town of Struan, deep in the heart of Northern Canada. Spanning two generations the story tells a tragic tale of fragile family ties taut with deep-set resentments.
The story unfolds with two brothers Jake and Arthur having a blade throwing competition. The novel is instantly alight with a subtle tension. Jake is daring and charming but with a reckless, selfish streak. His older brother Arthur on the other hand is responsible, sensible and taciturn. Jake provokes and tests his brothers patience mocking him with his irresponsible behaviour. Straight away the reader views the precocious balance within their relationship as the reticent Arthur tries to dissuade his brother from this carless game.
The tension witnessed in this scene quietly grows as we realize that Jake, although often self-seeking and egotistical is the apple of his mother’s eye. Arthur on the other hand is everything their father is seeking in a child, reliable and level-headed ; the perfect heir to his farm.
The story is told in an intermittent fashion switching from past to present. When the story leaps forward we find that Jake is no longer living in Struan and his whereabouts are vague. Arthur is now running the farm after the death of his father and is married to the beautiful Laura; both struggling to keep the farm and their livelihood abreast in bleak and desolate times. Questions arise like where has Jake vanished too? How has the quiet Arthur managed to acquire such an attractive and sought after wife? And what is this mysterious accident that has pushed Arthur and Jake even further apart?
Another addition to the novel is the character of Ian. The local doctors son whose destiny and future seems to be predetermined for him by the statue of his fathers own career. Ian is idealistic and moral. He is attracted to the simplicity of the land he lives in and wishes to break away from the life his father has planned for him and find a place in the community with men life Arthur. Along the way Ian’s own expectations become embroiled within Arthur’s world and all of these individual threads connect together to create a story of great intrigue.
Jake eventually comes back to Struan the same charismatic but arrogant man. With him all of the apprehension of the novel that has been quietly brewing comes rushing to the surface. The tension and awkwardness between Jake and Arthur becomes all the more raw and compelling because of the lapsed time that has separated them.
One of my favourite elements of this book was the way Lawson manages through beautiful prose and vivid imagination to take her readers to a corner of the world that I have rarely found portrayed in fiction. She does this is in such a way that makes it easy to lose one’s self within this world. Don’t you just love a book that has this effect on you?
The image Lawson creates of a peaceful and sparse town is matched perfectly with the similarly subtle narration of her story. Nothing is hurried or rushed, instead the tension and apprehension of the novel is allowed to slowly brew creating a finale taut with suspension.
At the heart of this book is a perfect portrayal of humanity; Lawson understands the inner workings of human relationships and she knows how to pack all of this emotion into her work. This is the first Mary Lawson novel I’ve read and I hadn’t even heard of her till I picked up this book. I can now safely say that I am a huge fan.
Have you read The Other Side of the Bridge or any other novels by Lawson? Next on my list is Crow Lake, perhaps you’ve read it and have some thoughts you would like to share? I’d love to hear all of your thoughts as always.