The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster

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The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Sensitive, thought-provoking, utterly compelling and a great read. The subject is dark and there will be times when you don't want to turn the pages, but you will have to.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099581925

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When you first meet Julia you'll probably like - or possibly respect - her. She's a competent professional woman working in child psychology. You admire the way that she maintains a calm exterior, in the face of all provocation and works to root out the causes of a child's problems. You sense that she has an empathy with the damaged people she sees in front of her. There's a mood of working towards a practical solution to the problems - it might not be the obvious one, but what matters is a scenario that works for the child. She wants to become a magistrate too - and you're delighted. She's just the sort of person the bench needs.

Then - the doubts creep in, as you hear about Julia's childhood: the father who died when she was little more than a toddler, the difficult mother and the sudden move from Penrith (where Julia was reasonably happy) to Manchester (where she wasn't). The move was ostensibly so that Julia's mother and her sister could be closer, but the background wasn't explained to eight-year-old Julia - she was simply expected to do as she was told - and it would prove to be a turning point in the child's life. She came into more contact with Maureen's daughter, the widowed Iris and Iris's baby son. No one could have expected the tragedy which struck, but Julia would carry a sense of guilt, for a reasonably innocent action and for not telling the police exactly what had happened, for decades. And that guilt would colour her life - and her actions to others.

It's a dark story. You dread turning the pages but you have to as that's the only way that you can find out what happens next. It has all the magnetism and horror of a car crash. Margaret Forster builds layer upon layer of Julia's early life - and the more you find out, the less you will like her. The respect, the admiration will become cold and drain away. But is it fair? To what extent was Julia in control of what happened to her - or of the impulses which led to some intolerable behaviour?

Forster's writing is exceptional as she engages our sympathy for Julia and then impels us to withdraw it. It's thought-provoking too. I found myself looking back on events in my own childhood and considering how life would have developed if relatively insignificant events had occurred differently. If I have a quibble about the book it's that some of the young girls who come through Julia's office are treated very simply with a solution coming almost too glibly - and we never see how it works out - I felt they were nothing more than a useful device and I would have liked to know more.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

We've enjoyed quite a few books by Margaret Forster. You might like to try Diary of an Ordinary Woman and The Battle for Christabel.

Buy The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster at Amazon.com.


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