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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
I'm a big fan of Margaret Forster; she manages to write eloquently on a number of different subjects, this means that some topics will be more of interest than others. In The Unknown Bridesmaid the story revolves around a child psychologist, Julia which I found immensely readable.

The story is written from Julia's perspective both in the present day revolving around her caseload of troubled young girls and her past; starting from the time she was asked to be a bridesmaid for her cousin Iris. Margaret Forster has a particular skill in depicting family relationships, not the sugar coated ones but the real life misunderstandings and difficulties that beset most families at one time or another. Julia spent the run up to the wedding terrified that this opportunity was going to be snatched away from her due to her mother's anxiety. As Julia grows she spends more time with Iris and soon a terrible event changes the course of her life forever.

This book has themes of childhood memories, jealousy and guilt running through its pages. There are some wonderful characters although not necessarily likable ones.

This is an absorbing tale, well written with a real understanding of how a child processes information and memories. The only criticism I have is that the girls in Julia's caseload seemed to be solved in a very simplistic manner, I presume this was to illustrate that all the girls needed was the wisdom of Julia's advice but I found it a little bit too dismissive. Despite this it was well worth a read and a good example of how well Margaret Forster writes and her immense skill at handling difficult subjects.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
As a child, Julia is asked to be a bridesmaid at the wedding of her cousin Iris. This is the beginning of the complicated relationship between the two which is central to the plot of this novel. While Julia is still young, a tragedy occurs within the family, and she decides to keep secret her part in it. When her mother dies, leaving her orphaned, Julia is sent to live with Iris and her husband and daughters, and her relationships with this family cause her to behave in such a way as to necessitate the keeping of further secrets. It is these secrets which will affect her deeply for many years to come, and which lead to her eventual choice of a career working with disturbed children.

The novel cleverly builds up the tension, leading the reader to expect all kinds of possible outcomes, or even further secrets, and it makes for a gripping read. Julia grows from a disturbed child into a solitary, self-contained adult. Unable (or unwilling) to bond with Iris and her family, and with few friends, she is not really likeable, and yet I had a certain sympathy for her, and really wanted to know what was going to happen. I have loved all of Margaret Forster's novels, and while this is not my favourite, I enjoyed it very much, and have no hesitation in recommending it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 31 May 2014
I've often questioned if those who are haunted by demons are drawn to psychology; Julia seems to epitomise such a sufferer. Once again guilt is laid at the door of the mother. So there is nothing new about this plot. Usually I enjoy a novel which dips in and out of past and present but I found this rather too meandering. The children Julia saw as her patients were "thin", not quite real, and their treatment brief and unconvincing as though some sort of magic was being cast. The reader could feel the moments of tension between Julia and her mother, the way in which Julia suppressed her feelimngs was almost tangible. But for me the story didn't hang together. The joins were too obvious. I'm new to Margaret Forster and not sure I shall pursue her on my wishlist. This is almost a "Misery Memoir" which is not my genre of choice. I can see its appeal but it didn't do it for me. There was no grip, though plenty of drama.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 27 February 2013
Margaret Forster's latest novel 'The Unknown Bridesmaid' centres on Julia, a child psychologist, who works with difficult children - either those from broken homes who have had traumatic experiences which are causing their challenging behaviour, or children from seemingly ordinary backgrounds whose behaviour, for some reason, is causing their parents considerable worry. But for whatever reason, and whoever Julia sees in her consulting rooms, she usually seems to be able to discover what is causing the problem, and very quickly and efficiently too - you could say Julia has a knack with troubled children, but Julia knows what it is like to be troubled for her own childhood was far from settled.

When Julia was eight, she was invited to be a bridesmaid for her beautiful cousin Iris, but although Julia was excited and very much looking forward to the wedding, the day was not quite as exciting and pleasurable as Julia had hoped for. In fact Julia's life seemed to take a downturn from that moment on - especially when, some months later, on a hot summer's day, Julia decided to secretly take out Iris's baby son in his unwieldy pram and something happened which has haunted Julia for years afterwards. (No spoilers, we learn this at the beginning of the novel). But it is not this incident alone that has caused problems for Julia - and, as we read on, we learn that it's not just Julia who has suffered from the consequences; and when Julia's troubled past life starts to detrimentally encroach into her present life, is she able she confront her past and cope with it, or does everything start to unravel?

Moving backwards and forwards in time, Margaret Forster gradually reveals to the reader details about Julia's unsettled past life and, as she looks into the nature of the inner child, she deftly shows us how what has happened to Julia in her formative years, has significantly affected her ability to relate to those close to her. It is interesting how the author develops her story and how, when we first read about Julia, we feel a natural sympathy towards this sensitive child but, as we read on and more about Julia's psyche is revealed, we find ourselves wondering about her motives and anticipating just how this story will finally conclude. I was drawn into Julia's life the moment I started reading and finished this novel in one sitting, and although I don't consider this to be one of Forster's best novels, I did find it an interesting, rather edgy and absorbing story.

4 Stars

Also recommended by the same author:
Keeping the World Away
Shadow Baby
Private Papers
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 24 April 2013
This is, I believe, the latest of Margaret Forsters' books, and is up to scratch with everything else I have ever read of hers. The author has an uncanny knack of taking what seem to be the most ordinary of circumstances and the most ordinary of people, and turning their story into a narrative which has the reader scrabbling to turn the pages and scan the words faster. You are, despite yourself, drawn boots and all into a Margaret Forster book, and find yourself living the life of at least one of the characters in the book.

In this book, as in many of Margaret Forsters', there is one strong protagonist from whose perspective much of the story is seen. Julia, at eight years of age, is asked to be bridesmaid for her cousin Iris. Iris' marriage and the aftermath is seen by us through Julia's eyes, and as the years go by, and Julia gets older, we see her life still through her perspective. But cutting back and forth between that section of the narrative, is a Julia some forty years older, who is, as we discover, working with troubled children. These children dip in and out of the narrative as they are seen in her work by Julia, and we never really get any resolution on their situations, but that's exactly how Julia's life seems to go, so again we live the narrative through Julia's perspective.

As the past catches up to the future, the threads of Julia's life become more evident to the reader, and we can see that the story is heading for - a confrontation? A revelation? Well, you have to read the story to find that out. This is a thought-provoking read, one that you find yourself thinking about long after you've turned the last page. Wonderfully engaging, beautifully written, and very thoughtful. Totally recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 August 2013
I loved this book although the end felt a wrench. I was reading it on my kindle and really was not expecting it to finish and was left burning for more. I felt that really complex subjects showing the amorality of children and the enormous impact of childhood experiences were thoroughly explored leaving the reader discomfited as was only right. I had huge compassion for the 'difficult' main protagonist but also massive frustration at her and the hurt she inflicted on those were trying to help her. I liked the irony of her being in the 'helping' professions and it was never really made clear whether she ultimately really helped others due to her own unfinished business and that was so delicately handled since the whole book was always only from her perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2013
Margaret Forster never fails to please. She is the complete novelist. Everything she does is original. Sometimes titles bare little relationship to the book. This one does and in a very moving way. The story is about the psychological development of Julia and how her own experience of life leads her into helping troubled young people . As a psychologist she can almost read their minds.
How does Margaret Forster continue to produce such absorbing novels? I suggest by spending a long time on her research and presenting her findings in a way that helps the reader to understand more about the human condition.
Read it and grow!
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This book was as thoughtful and readable as this author's novels usually are but as I got towards the end I realised that I wasn't quite sure what message I was expected to take away with me - and that, of course, might have been the author's intention. I did, however, find the ending rather unsatisfactory and unresolved and that slightly spoiled the novel for me.

The book centres on Julia who is a therapist with difficult children. Throughout the book we get glimpses into the lives of the children that she treats. Each glimpse is very quick as we see the problem that the child has and what Julia thinks needs to be done to solve this. As the book progresses you realise that most of these little case studies relate to something that has happened in Julia's life and that she is using her own experience to suggest a solution. At first I was a bit disconcerted by how these children weren't followed up and how we didn't see what happened next but when I realised how they related to Julia I began to look forward to the next one. It's a clever way of revealing more about Julia than she tells us herself.

The story mostly consists of a retelling of Julia's youth from her time with her difficult mother to her life with the rest of the family when her mother dies. Initially you feel sorry for Julia but as the book progresses we see how she behaves and we begin to realise that what she does cannot be excused by what happens to her. The argument that Julia puts forward is that the adult is a different person from the child but actually we realise that Julia's life in the present day is a reflection of the child she was.

There is no resolution to the issues that the author raises here. A damaged child has resulted in a functional but emotionally unavailable adult. Julia may no longer be a bully but she cannot think of her estranged relations and their needs apart from her own. The questions that teh author seems to be asking are about how much the child affects the adult and how much they are two different people.

There is lots to think about in this book and I was very engaged with it. I did wish, however, that the ending hadn't left me feeling so flat. I think that this may well make a good book club book - there would certainly be plenty to discuss.
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on 1 May 2015
I have read most if not all of Margaret Fosters books. They have been a delight and a rich seam of a deep understanding of the human mind and frailty. All of them were page turners for me and I loved both the biographies and the fictions equally. It is therefore with a deep sense of sadness and disappointment to have not enjoyed "The Unknown Bridesmaid" with the same extent of satisfaction as I have enjoyed her previous books.

I was not comfortable with the way her narrative jumped back and forward. Had she been an unknown writer to me I may have given up following the first 20% of the book.
There were no redeeming features or uplifting outcomes of hope in the latter part of the book. By the time I had completed it I was glad to be rid of it and felt I had fulfilled my obligation to someone who has been one of my favourite writers for a great many years.
I am left with difficulty in understanding what the message was that she was trying to convey to the reader. I understand how she was trying to show the way the mind can work and may be influenced for good or evil by events outwith the central character's control. But for me the story of numerous misfortunes to her and the lack of any endeavour or warmth in the character left me not only cold but confused regarding the outcome. Was it showing misery that many people endure. Or was it the need to show a lack of compassion in the human spirit?
I have awarded it a generous three stars but to be accurate the third star is really in respect to the author and her previous wonderful literature she has produced.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Julia is a child psychologist who calls on her troubled past for guidance in dealing with her clients. This excellent story ably illustrates the vital importance of a stable loving family environment and deals with jealousy , petty thieving and lying that often occur in young children. If these traits are not carefully dealt with this story illustrates how one may be affected in later life. Margaret Forster's story is beautifully written and there are a lot of uncomfortable scenarios that some of us may recognise from our own childhood.
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