Booker Book # 3: The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

Posted: August 21, 2006 in Booker Project

I absolutely loved this book. The Other Side of the Bridge is one of those family saga sorts of novels, I guess you’d say, though it’s not a really long epic sort of book at 304 pages. It’s a variation of the Cain and Abel tale set in rural Ontario, Canada and takes places within the space of one generation in the Dunn family.

Arthur Dunn is the lumbering, slow-witted older brother, and his younger brother, Jake, is his nemesis. Arthur doesn’t have a vindictive bone in his body, but his manipulative younger brother pushes him to his limit, seemingly for his own entertainment.

Jake is a cruel person, almost completely without any sense of morality. He has been spoiled and indulged by his mother from birth, mostly due to the fact numerous miscarriages occurred between the births of Arthur and Jake. When Jake was born it was all but miraculous to his mother, and the fact he was a sickly, small child only added to her overprotectiveness. While their father didn’t approve of this kind of extreme coddling, he was such a pushover for his wife he wouldn’t step in and oppose her. That left Arthur very much on the fringes, to fight his own battles.

After years of being pushed by his brother, Arthur does eventually break. By his own inaction he causes a devastating accident to happen to Jake, and spends the rest of his life living through the guilt. This guilt becomes the force that overshadows the rest of the novel, casting a dark cloud on the lives of Arthur and his family. Before the end of the book an even bigger price will be paid, and the life of a complete innocent will finally pay the devil’s ransom that ends the feud between the brothers.

This is a powerful book, written in a very understated but lyrical style. It’s absolutely gorgeous. But will Lawson be the breakthrough winner of the Booker? I’d be inclined to think not, considering the staggering competition and her comparative newcomer status (though this isn’t her first book). However, if she does by some small chance win I would be thrilled. Her style reminds me a bit of two other tremendously skilled native Canadian writers, Margaret Laurence and Margaret Atwood. She seems to be following in the footsteps of these two icons, and I think she’s well on her way to achieving her own literary greatness.

But my final bet is no, The Other Side of the Bridge won’t be the victor. If it doesn’t win it won’t be from lack of worthiness, but rather from the lack of a big literary reputation backing her up. Having been nominated, though, greatly increases her visibility. If Lawson keeps writing this well she may have a shot at the prize in the future.

After this very positive reading experience I’ll be reading her first novel, Crow Lake. Reviews for this one are glowing, and I have no doubt it’s as beautiful as The Other Side of the Bridge.

Mary Lawson


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