Pell used to think that she'd like to marry Birdie, the boy next door, with whom she shared many childhood hours at both work and play. But when the time comes, Pell realises that all that Birdie can offer her is a miserable future as a housebound mother and wife, and so she steals away on the morning of her wedding, accompanied by her loyal horse Jack and, to her displeasure, her mute younger brother Bean. She leaves behind a drunken fundamentalist father, a broken mother and a handful of sisters who she assures herself will get by without her.
Pell's bid for freedom takes her on a treacherous path. She loses both her companions early on due to a swindling horse trader, and is reduced to near starvation as she scavenges on her way to reclaim all that was lost to her. Enter Dogman, a dark and brooding poacher, with whom she develops a relationship of sorts until she is ready to face the road, and the consequences of her actions, again. As I read the book I was constantly reminded of both Thomas Hardy, the late-19th century novelist, famous for his vivid descriptions of rural England and the doomed characters inhabiting it; and, in the character of Dogman especially, D.H Lawrence’s Oliver Mellors, better known as Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The Bride’s Farewell captures the Victorian countryside beautifully, in all its glory and misery.
Pell’s affinity with, and deep understanding of horses is convincingly described, and although I am not a horse person myself, I could see the attraction when looking through Pell’s eyes. Pell herself is a great proto-feminist character, and I found myself rooting for her all the way. My only disappointment was the matter-of-factness in which Rosoff treated Pell and Dogman’s relationship. While it was a bond between two none-too-communicative outsiders, I expected Pell’s emancipation to also have a sexual or emotional aspect to it which I felt was underexplored in the novel. Nevertheless, The Bride’s Farewell is a compelling historical novel, obviously written through modern-day eyes, but without compromising on the period details which lend it depth and integrity. Fans will not be disappointed.
Recommended by Noga Applebaum
- If you haven't read all of Meg Rosoff's other books, try her first, How I Live Now; and then go on to Just in Case and What I Was.
- I mentioned Thomas Hardy and D.H Lawrence, and therefore I recommend checking out their novels, many of which belong to the cannon of great European literature. My favourites are Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd, and Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, though Lady Chatterley’s Lover is also a good racy read which I very much enjoyed in my late teens.