Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

"The other side of the bridge" by Mary Lawson (Vintage, 2007)

In 1957, Ian, 15 year old son of a doctor in a small Canadian town, asks Arthur Dunn, a quiet farmer with a beautiful wife, Laura, for weekend work.

Arthur, whatever his limitations, was a really nice guy, and he didn't have a clue that Ian was only there because he was in love with his wife. And even less of a clue that sometimes, after dark, Ian returned to the farm. Returned, and stood silently within the black shapes of the trees at the edge of the farmyard (p.78)

In another timeline, Arthur's 13, living on a farm with his slow father, smart mother and bright brother Jak, who's 8. When Jak's 14 he fools around on a bridge

'Bet you.' His favourite phrase since the day he was born. He turned everything - everything - into a competition. It seemed so pointless, since he was better than Arthur at everything anyway. But he just had to keep proving it. 'Bet you.' (p.70)

He falls, costing his parents a lot in hospital fees and is left with a limp. Arthur feels guilty about the accident because he was there. The book flips between these time-lines, so sometimes we see effect before cause without the need for flash-backs or flash-forwards. We can compare/contrast events in 2 time-lines.

Arthur's desperate to please his mother. When Ian's 15, his mother leaves with another man. Ian's uncertain about what career to follow. For Arthur there was never any doubt. Jak returns after 15 years, unsettling his brother's household. An accident ensues, which Ian blames himself for. Back in the older time-line, Arthur's too flat-footed to fight in WW2. Many of his friends die, and his father dies in a tractor accident. He helps in an assisted suicide. Laura and her old father move into the town. Arthur likes her, so Jak seduces her then runs way.

I like the structure, the way Ian's conversation adapts so well to who he's talking to (father, girlfriend, little children), and I like much of the writing, though the odd paragraph seems out of place; e.g. -

  • Sergeant Moyniham sighed. 'Kids,' he said. He hoisted his pants; he had a sizeable paunch and his trousers fought a losing battle to stay on top of it (p.91)
  • Was it the smile that did it, that caused the cold snake of fear to coil around Arthur's heart? Or the angle of her chin as she turned her face upwards to look at Jake? Or was it simply the light that came into her eyes when she heard his whisper - the brightness, the happiness, the pure and unmistakable yearning in those clear, grey eyes (p.230)

Other reviews

  • Penelope Lively (Guardian) (deservedly longlisted for the Man Booker prize)
  • Louise Doughty (In a book that is mostly flawless, there is the occasional false note. When the young Ian first observes Arthur out in the fields with his plough and horses, he thinks of "a picture postcard of time gone by" which feels more like something the modern author thinks than the character Ian)
  • Ruth Scurr (This intricate novel shifts back and forth between past and present, exploring complicated emotions of commitment and betrayal. Lawson deals elegantly with the need to orient the reader at the start of each new chapter by quoting and dating headlines from the Temiskaming Speaker, a local newspaper)

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