Fiction Reviews


(2023) Lauren Beukes, Michael Joseph, £18.99, hrdbk, 458pp, 978-0-718-18282-3


Bridge's maverick scientist mother Jo is dead.

Now she's examining everything Jo left behind.
Which is when she finds her big secret.

Is it a drug?
A gateway to other worlds?
Jo believed so.

Bridge is desperate to see her mother again.
Will do anything, risk anything.
Including search for her in those other realities.

What she doesn't know is that others
are after Jo's secret. And some believe anyone
it touches must be destroyed.

Bridge? She just wants to find her mom ...

Lauren Beukes is always worth reading, although I haven’t read her earlier novels – Moxyland or Zoo City. I hopped on the Beukes Train for the wonderful The Shining Girls, and stayed on board for the weighty Broken Monsters, which, for me, was a bit too long, although full of interesting concepts and a sharp poke at the use of social media, especially by young girls who decide to use it as a way to paedophile-hunt, much to the consternation of one of the girl’s mothers who happens to be a detective. I jumped off after that, missing her short story collection, Slipping, and the novel Afterland (originally called Motherland), but now I’m firmly on board with Bridge.

A book with a title called Bridge would probably make the reader think of a way to join two places, cross divides, or get somewhere else, and it certainly does mean those, but here it also stands for Bridget, as in Bridget Kittinger-Harris, whose mother, Jo, a neuroscientist, has just died of cancer. It doesn’t take Bridge long to realise how little she knew her mother and wished she had kept in touch with her, although that wasn’t easy given her mother’s obsessive personality which at the end drove away almost everyone who cared for her. As she digs into her mother’s life and what she has left behind, Bridge finds that Jo believed there were alternative realities and there were different versions of her within them.

But how to access these realities? Easy, just use something called 'dreamworm' which helps you to swop consciousness with another you. As Bridge and her best friend, Dom, a non-binary Puerto Rican artist, are clearing out Jo’s possessions they find some of the icky dreamworm, which seems familiar to Bridge and without thinking about it, she pops some into her mouth.

But surely all of this is nonsense, a delusion, or is it really a way for Bridge to connect with her mother again? And possibly connect with herself, her true self, as she is in a rut, having dropped out, and now works in a bookshop, and has regrets about what should/could/might have been. Jo has left clues she might be alive in another reality so Bridge needs to find her, but someone else is after Jo too. An ex-cop called Amber who is on the hunt for Jo and anyone who has used dreamworm. Amber has a dog Mr Floof II – don’t ask what happened to Mr. Floof I – which she takes everywhere. She also has an advantage over everyone by being connected to all of her other selves at the same time. And she is relentless.

Beukes does a great job of painting these other realities and the sometimes, subtle, differences between them and there is a great slow reveal – keep up, you’ll work it out, but no spoilers here. The story hops between Bridge and Amber as they change realities, and bodies, leaving Dom behind to look after the newbie Bridge’s that arrive, dazed and confused. Dom does some research of his own and contacts a few people who might help. Apart from the character arcs, the plot is also enhanced by excerpts from Jo’s diary stretching back through the decades, medical reports, journal extracts and some emails before we finish with a postscript.

Bridge is a very entertaining read, picking up momentum as it goes along. Beukes obviously had a lot of fun writing it, and there are some funny scenes and concepts, and knowing winks between her and the reader about the slight differences between realities – if only we lived there, or not! She does a fine balancing act to make sure we don’t become confused by events, or timelines of other places and I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it, although dog lovers may disagree.

Ian Hunter


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