Making the transition

tunnel

Philip Pullman
The Broken Bridge
Macmillan Children’s Books 1998 (1990)

Ginny Howard’s mother was from Haiti, and it’s from her that Ginny apparently inherits her artistic talents. She now lives with her widowed father in a Welsh village near the sea, and for a fifteen-year-old of mixed descent that isn’t easy. Come the summer holidays and some of the mysteries concerning her mother and family start to emerge, upsetting the sensitive but determined teenager at that crucial period when she is making the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood.

“Coming-of-age”, “teenage-angst”, “identity-crisis” – yes, these are all appropriate labels to pin on this novel, but they only convey part of what Pullman is about. This is also about a sense of place: the northern coast of Cardigan Bay, south of Harlech, with its uneasy mix of Welsh speakers and incomers set in a picturesque but haunting landscape. This too is about what it is to be an artist, with your peculiar personal viewpoint to express, somehow, in an unspoken language that not everyone may understand. As Pullman himself confirms, “In this book I was really writing about my own teenage years in that part of the world, and my discovery of the visual arts, and my love of that landscape.”

His narrative skill is evident throughout, drawing the reader onwards, and there is much vivid characterisation. For fans of His Dark Materials and the Sally Lockhart series there is even a little bit of the supernatural suggested, curious perhaps for an avowed atheist but fairly convincingly worked in. In this tortured and claustrophobic novel teenage feelings of alienation and isolation are captured well; true to life, not every matter is resolved but there is certainly a glimmer of hope beckoning at the end of the tunnel.

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17 thoughts on “Making the transition

    1. Pullman was brought up in this area and went to school in Harlech and so can be guaranteed to capture the general feel of the place in the late 50s and early 60s; I don’t expect it changed all that much in the thirty years before he came to write this, and I suspect (only from cursory trips up this coast) that much the same applies now, more than twenty years on.

      By the way, Joan Aiken wrote a novel which featured this area, or one very like it, The Whispering Mountain set in an alternate Victorian Wales. Except there’s no Queen Victoria. I’m sure you’ve come across it!

  1. Reblogged this on Kate Shrewsday and commented:
    If you are a chain-reader, Chris is the blogger for you. His incisive reviews get to the heart of whether a book is a decent read, and tells you precisely why, warts and all. How he reads so widely, and seems to make so many inspired choices, is beyond me. Suffice to say my reading list has trebled since becoming a regular at Calmgrove.

  2. I love the photo you used to illustrate this review . . . enticing, mysterious, haunting, and just a bit claustrophobic.

    I’m here via Kate’s reblog. I see exactly why she’s a fan.

    1. Yes, thank you! I’ve just posted a reply on Kate’s blog about the photo! It’s on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, one of a series of leafy tunnels along a stretch by the beach at Newport. I hoped it would prove enigmatic enough to draw a reader in!

      And, in addition, the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is now part of the Wales Coast Path , and so this long-distance walking route would take you past this leafy tunnel and on through some scenes featured in this novel!

  3. I loved this book. I was especially pleased with how well Pullman wrote from the female perspective, and from the perspective of someone who feels “other” (different race or what-have-you). Books like this make me feel good about YA fiction.

    1. You’re quite right, of course, and I was a bit remiss in not expanding on these aspects. Despite the bad press Pullman sometimes get from critics with a different ideological outlook, his empathy for his main characters is an outstanding feature of his fiction.

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