Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Review: The Toll Bridge by Aidan Chambers

Dear blog,

Summary (from Goodreads): Fed up with parents and friends trying to decide on his future, Jan attempts to escape the pressures of home by taking a job as a toll-keeper. Going to live in the country - alone in the house on the toll bridge - Jan hopes to find out who he really is. At the toll bridge Jan meets Tess and Adam. Their friendship works well for a time, but they all have to face a turning point, and for one of them, the result is devastating.

Review: Although Postcards from No Man's Land left me kind of underwhelmed,  I'm quite the Aidan Chambers fangirl these days. When he writes well, it's stunning.  This is All and Now I Know are two of my favourite books; In their own ways they've totally influenced my life or the way I look at the world.  It probably sounds pretty corny, but imagine this: when I read a book, an entirely average novel I quite liked, it drifts around as the centre of my thoughts for a pretty short amount of time.  But TIA and NIK both stuck around in my head for weeks.  But The Toll Bridge fell short for me.  That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I did.  But when you have such high expectations for an author, it's pretty hard to live up to them.  It was a good book in many respects.  

It's not as...deep, I guess, as some of the other books in the sequence.  I guess it's a more "normal" book on many levels, but there were still proper moments of philosophical contemplation.  It's a pretty universal book; I think all people, whether in their teenage years or not, feel like they just need to disappear from their everyday life and work out where they fit into the universe/make a proper change to their lifestyle/find out what it is that they really want from their life.  This book describes that pretty fantastically.  Adam, Jan and Tess all feel like this but they all have very different attitudes towards their lives and what they feel they should be doing with themselves.

I suppose the plot was the main issue I had with the book.  I enjoyed the beginning, the way all the characters were introduced, but the middle felt like quite hard work.  It's like everything suddenly ran out of steam.  It's only around 200 pages, so it shouldn't have taken me four or five days to read, should it? It felt like it dragged somewhat, like it was an effort to read.  There was  a sense of foreboding in the writing style, so for the longest time I felt like I was waiting for something exciting to happen.  Reading the scene at the party, which I can't really say much about in case I give things away, I felt kind of underwhelmed.  Is that it?  Is that really all the action that's going to happen?   In parts it felt kind of...apathetic.  Events were occurring, things were happening, or could have been happening, but things like the tension and the dynamics between the characters seemed to have dissolved almost completely, and it felt like there was no drive behind the story and no way for things to keep going.

Thankfully, things picked up again at the end, and there was a fantastic twist.  Is it possible to be pleased by an event that's so devastating and has such a big impact on all of the characters?  It makes me feel slightly sadistic, but the ending made me happy because things were happening again, there were things to think about and puzzle over and wonder where things would have gone if things had been slightly different, and what happened after the conclusion.  It's a very open ending, which seems very fitting to the book; there are so many different paths that it could take.

So, I guess I'm glad I read it, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone as their first Chambers novel in case it put them off from reading any more of his novels, in which case they would be missing out on a fair amount of awesomeness.  But if you have, then I do think that it's not to be missed.

In Three Words: original, surprising, anti-climatic.
Recommended for: people who've already read some Aidan Chambers.
Rating: 3

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