The Unknown Bridesmaid – Margaret Forster
This was a book group choice and I probably wouldn’t have chosen to read this book on my own.
This is the type of book that I call ‘a bank holiday book.’ Let me explain. A ‘bank holiday book’ is a book to begin on Friday and finish on a Monday or indeed any three days when you have nothing to do and no plans to do anything. It should have been a quick read, but in fact it took me all month to finish it; I kept putting it down and then forgetting about it.
The beginning of the book confused me completely and I found myself having to read the first chapter twice, with the thought of reading it a third time, but then decided I couldn’t put myself through it again and pressed on regardless.
The main character in the book is Julia. Throughout the first chapter the character of Julia switches between Julia as a child and Julia as an adult, which confused me completely, hence the reason I ended up re-reading the first chapter again. Julia lives with her mother and at the age of eight she is asked by her cousin, Iris, to be a bridesmaid. Her first disappoints are that; the bridesmaid dress is too small and needs to be altered and that the dress is not pink. Julia really wanted a pink bridesmaids dress, but she is not consulted.
Shortly after Iris is married she experiences two tragedies; the death of her husband and then a year later the death of her baby son. You begin to feel like life is all too much for Iris when she proves us all wrong and gets a job, meets and falls in love and then gives birth to two daughters.
At the age of 14 Julia’s mother dies and she ends up living with Iris and her family. Although Iris takes her in there is this feeling of her not being wanted. Julia is a troubled child and and even more troubled teenager and takes out her negativity on Iris and her family, almost trying to push them away.
No one explains anything to Julia and she takes this absence of information as nobody wants her. There is a lack of emotional connections in Julia’s life as a child and although she marries briefly, this disconnection to others continue throughout her life.
As an adult she first becomes a teacher, then a psychologist and finally a part time magistrate as well. As a psychologist she works with young girls and seems to instantly solve their problems, preventing them from becoming broken adults, which is how she feels. The things that she did against Iris and her family haunt her and although in the end she tells everything to Iris, Iris isn’t interested and want to know about Julia personal life, a life, which Julia does not have and therefore is unable to share.
I think this is a woman’s book and that is because many women will connect to some part of the book or some character from the book as themselves or as part of their life. It does play on human emotions, family, connections or indeed the absence of connections and how our thoughts can create past guilt for mistakes that actually doesn’t exist in reality.
There was a mixed reception to the book at the book group, some people ‘liked it’, enjoyed it, but I think most of us had problems connecting with the characters and the story. One person, who had read the book twice, suggested that the word ‘Unknown’ was to do with the fact that there were many things that Julia didn’t know or indeed that Julia felt responsible for that others didn’t know, which I thought was an interesting way to look at it. Some read it within a few days, but most struggled through it our the month- and it wasn’t a long book!
3 out of 5
This month’s read:
George Elliot’s, Felix Holt: The Radical