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.