The Bride’s Farewell – Meg Rosoff (2009, Doubleday Canada)
In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, a young woman named Pell runs away from her home in rural England, taking her beautiful white horse, Jack, with her. Pell heads for Salisbury Fair, seeking employment, hoping to be rid of her desperately poor past, her father’s drinking, and her mother’s constant despair. Oh yeah, and the marriage to a man she doesn’t love (did I mention that she runs away on the very day of her wedding?). Pell considers herself a free spirit, refusing to be tied to no one, but things have a way of catching up with her…and they do, in spiral after spiral, as events compound to drive Pell back to the childhood and the family she has left behind. The hardships she encounters along the way are enough to make anyone weep, but whenever it seems that Pell has nothing left to rely on, Rosoff pulls something – be it subtle or surprising – out of the hat, an event or a character that works so beautifully with the circular journey of the plot, that the reader can’t help but smile with admiration at the skillful writing.
Aside from the perfectly rendered landscape, the detailed settings, and the historical insertion, Rosoff really got me with the way Pell interacts with animals – in particular with her Gypsy dog, Dicken, and her horse, Jack (and indeed, with all of the horses in the story). Pell is a strong woman who can shoe and ride a horse better than most of the men of her time, and she has a special gift for sussing out if a horse is healthy or not. Her sensitivities toward animals drive the plot in interesting ways, and Rosoff is spectacularly clever in the way she handles it all.
Beautifully and painstakingly wrought, this book is NOT a happy one. But, throughout, it’s hopeful, and when you turn the final page, you can take that deep breath, blink up into the sunlight, and be utterly satisfied.