The Unknown Bridesmaid is the newest novel from prolific author Margaret Forster. Its premise is intriguing and rather mysterious: ‘Julia was the only person who knew what happened that day. But she didn’t tell the police. And then it was too late. Now, years later, her secret looms large. Is it really too late? And if she does tell, can she bear the consequences?’
The novel begins in the present day, in which Julia works as a child psychologist, and goes back in time to her own childhood. In the first pivotal event, she is asked to be a bridesmaid for her cousin Iris, who is marrying a man named Reginald in Manchester. Soon afterwards, Reginald is killed in what is thought to be an IRA attack. Despite her grief, Iris soon gets back on track, finding that she is pregnant with his son, who is known from his birth as Reggie. Throughout, Julia’s own story is far more interesting than those fragments which we learn about the girls whom she counsels. Her family dynamic is interestingly portrayed, and the psychological aspect of the book has been well done too. The novel certainly gains power as it goes on.
Forster writes well throughout, and her prose is successful at building up tension as the novel builds. The Unknown Bridesmaid does feel like rather a quick read, but this may be solely due to the rather large font within the paperback edition of the book, and its uncomplicated writing. It is more focused upon its characters than its settings and scenes, so there is little beauty but much intrigue created. Forster captures both the childish naivety and wisdom of her young characters – and there are many of them – well. It is interesting to see everything from the perspective of a girl who is still firmly rooted within her childhood, and it allows the reader to piece together the incidents which we believe may have occurred to lead Julia and her family to certain points in their lives.
The third person perspective has been used to good effect in recounting Julia’s story, but it does have a tendency to detach the reader from the story, and renders us more as a casual observer than a confidante who is intrinsically linked to Julia, or to Forster’s other characters. Julia is not a likeable protagonist, but there is something rather compelling and horribly believable about her. Through her, Forster demonstrates quite clearly how one single moment can impact upon one’s life forever. Whilst the majority of the plot is satisfying enough, the ending feels both flat and rushed, which is a real shame. Still, as far as psychological novels go, The Unknown Bridesmaid certainly deserves to be read by a wide audience.