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The Bridge

The Bridge - Jane Higgins 3.5 starsWhy do you believe what you believe? How much of the way you see the world is filtered through a lens built by your community, your education, the media?‘We rode to war in a taxi-cab’. This is the cracking opening line of The Bridge, an intensely thought-provoking novel that tackles head on the issues of war, propaganda, racism and class distinction, and the way political and religious ideology play into conflict.The story follows Nik, a student at an elite Cityside school, who appears destined for a career with the Internal Security and Intelligence Services. Cityside and Southside are divided, literally by a river, but also by the ongoing war between the Citysiders and the ‘hostiles’ on the opposite side. Then Nik’s school is bombed. Hostiles are advancing into Cityside. The little brother of Nik’s best friend is abducted. We embark upon a journey across the river with Nik, discovering along with him that all in the world is not necessarily what it seems. Accompanied by his friend Fyffe, sister of the abducted boy Sol, Nik must walk into the heart of the place he has been raised to view as enemy territory, a place rife with desperation, squalor and inter-faction unrest. What begins as an act of single-minded determination to locate and bring home Sol becomes a complex parallel journey of discovery, both in terms of Nik’s world view, and his sense of identity. The Bridge is not a straightforward action novel. While the plot incorporates tense action scenes and doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to brutality and violence, it is a multi-layered book that delves quite deeply into moral and ethical questions. Higgins has written insightfully about the effects of power and politics in an environment where information is controlled and forms part of the artillery of conflict. Race and social division are unflinchingly examined. The story hypothesises on the futility of war and the vicious circle of acts of retribution that are perpetuated by fear, prejudice and propaganda. This was not always an easy book to read. Rather than consistently adrenalin-fuelled pacing, the story packs quite some ballast in the subtext and themes. There is an almost palpable weight to the book, and while thought-provoking and complex, I hesitate to say that this book will be equally engaging for all of its target audience. Higgins’ characters are well-fleshed out and clearly realised, shaded with flaws, prejudices and varied motivations. We uncover information along with Nik as he narrates, and at the same time experience the spectrum of emotion he passes through, at times a brutal process as he deals with grief, anger and fear. For me, the standout character was Fyffe. I really loved her. While she made some poorly considered, even reckless, decisions - I felt that Fyffe was motivated from a good place. She was truly brave in that she still chose to act in the face of her fear. In her group of highly intelligent, indoctrinated friends – Fyffe is the empath, driven to action through love and her great capacity for sympathy and connection. It is this ability that also enables Fyffe to see people beyond their political alignment, race or background, in a socially divided world. The weight of her shared experience with Nik, their linked grief, makes their friendship especially poignant and gives it depth and meaning beyond its roots in family and school.There is a lot going on in this book – it has some complex and important subject matter in its sights – and I feel that Higgins' prose and plotting was tight and considered. For these factors, The Bridge is well worth attention and merit. On an entirely personal level, however, I didn’t feel overwhelmingly connected to the story and the characters in an emotional way – which is basically the litmus test on which I base the majority of my ratings. Had I felt more strongly invested, I may have found the story more… gripping. As it happened, although I read it fairly quickly, my commitment waxed and waned. I guess, simply speaking, I didn’t feel as compelled as I thought I would. (To be fair here, I did find the latter part of the book very intense and it had good momentum and some moments of face-punching impact). To sum up the heart of the story - I’ll paraphrase one of the characters:Peace without justice, or peace without mercy. Which would you choose?The trailer is amazing