10th Nov 2011
Across the Bridge by Morag Joss
The latest novel from Morag Joss, winner of The Silver Dagger Award and veteran of literary shortlists such as The Edgar Award and the Dilys Awards, Across the Bridge takes a look at the lives of three displaced people.
A tourist, a caravan-dweller and an ex-coach driver who are united by the collapse of a bridge in the Scottish Highlands and their own dedication to being really, really miserable.
Joss begins with a meandering meditation on the grim lives being lived around a bridge; the lately-married female tourist is told to abort her ill-conceived child over breakfast by her detestable husband Colin.
In a broken-down caravan another woman, Silva, plugs the caravan’s leaks with her own hair and attempts to stop her moronic husband from feeding their baby to the wild geese. Finally Ron sleeps in his car due to guilt over being A Bad Driver.
Eventually frumpy-preggers crosses paths with moronic-caravan-hub when she sells him her husband’s rental car in order to make enough money to keep her baby.
The suggestion that an illegal immigrant from an unnamed Scandinavian country who keeps his child in a bucket has this much cash is never really questioned. Moronic-hub drives straight for the nearest swaying bridge and plunges into the depths with his and Silva’s baby.
Ron hurtles to the rescue and proceeds to watch a lot of horrified onlookers use their iPhones. Frumpy-preggers immediately names herself Annabel, after the dead baby, and goes to live with grief stricken Silva in the caravan.
Ron turns up soon after and they all move to a cottage together. “Annabel” becomes the most pregnant a woman has ever been, Silva builds a shrine to her dead husband and Ron learns how to drive a boat.
It’s difficult not to sympathise with characters that have lost everything and are now too broken to pick themselves out of the mud but Across the Bridge has the kind of jaw-crushing structure that makes it possible.
Constantly switching between Annabel and Silva in first person to Ron in third person, the tone seesaws wildly. Frequent forays into Annabel’s gravy-spattered childhood do not help.
By the end Annabel is giving birth in the mud, with Silva crouching nearby building another shrine out of placenta and Ron impersonating Ratty from The Wind in the Willows.
All the reader can do is heave a sigh of relief that they are no longer required to inhabit Annabel’s earth-mother/monster brain and wish that Joss would stick to crime.
Want to see for yourself? Published by Alma Books in September, you can buy it in paperback for £7.66.
Rating: 1/5. Unhappiness rains down upon all who crack the spine of Across the Bridge.
Other recommended reading: For strangers thrown together in extraordinary circumstances, try Four Frightened People by E. Arnot Robertson.