A Bridge too far


A Bridge too far

DEBORAH STEINMAIR never expected to be bored by Lauren Beukes. The author's new book proved her wrong.


IN the theatre, they talk about the willing suspension of disbelief. Fiction demands it too: after all, you are asked to forget that you're staring at symbols in ink on paper and flipping pages. It's like looking at those seemingly flat 3D pictures; suddenly, a scene, a whole world, springs to life right before your eyes.

I don't really suffer from disbelief. I swallow everything hook, line and sinker. When I immerse myself in a story, I am completely lost to the world. I readily devour science fiction. I blindly accept every premise and wholeheartedly believe people can eat dreamworms and travel through time and dimensions. Quantum physics makes more sense to me than the one-dimensional reality we are otherwise confronted with. In a parallel universe, another version of me is writing her tenth bestseller on a golden beach. Countless alternate selves are making decisions that shape their lives.

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What I have a problem with is the portrayal of these endless possibilities in film, on stage and in books. We are bound by this invisible, actually non-existent taskmaster: time. On stage, I've seen how a couple repeat the same scene and dialogue (slightly modified) over and over to demonstrate: if she had reacted differently, if he had chosen differently, their world would have looked different. Countless outcomes for every moment. They react and choose differently in each universe, with an endless chain of consequences, like a hall of mirrors. But if you show me the same scene and more or less the same dialogue three times in a row, my response is basic and barbaric: YAWN.

Portray it differently, I once argued in a newspaper review. Why not have three couples on stage, slightly apart, dressed the same, mimicking the same actions, moments apart, with slight adjustments? Then the outcome of each action or decision can be voiced, each a fraction of a second after the other. Wouldn't that be more visually satisfying? Upon which an eminent figure on the theatre scene declared to a table full of critics at a hotel banquet that Die Burger's critic (me) doesn't grasp quantum physics AT ALL.

I don't specifically like science fiction. I love fiction, and if you do it well enough I'll buy anything: fantasy, fairy tales, sci-fi. I'm a big fan of Lauren Beukes, our shining girl who has even shone at Marvel Comics. I was looking forward to her new book, Bridge.

I was disappointed. In a previous book, I could easily digest a time-travelling serial killer before breakfast, and it held my attention because Beukes writes so vividly. The characters effortlessly become a part of your circle of friends, you invest in them. And her language is so crisp that you suddenly view a situation or sentiment from an entirely new angle.

But Bridge became tedious. Boring, monotonous. In my opinion, it's YA, young adult fiction, with which I don't have a problem either. Characters consume anything, like Alice in Wonderland; they eat a piece of a golden spaghetti-like worm, listen to certain music, view certain images, and suddenly they're transported to another universe, still themselves or a certain version of themselves, an “altother", with completely different circumstances. In the universe they left behind, the poor unsuspecting almost-double suddenly finds herself in an unknown world, immersed in strange circumstances.

Bridget's mother, Jo, died of a brain tumour and denied at the end that Bridge was her daughter. Her mother did have a tumour. She left a piece of worm and instructions for Bridge, and now Bridget visits one universe after another in search of a mother who is still alive somewhere and has swapped bodies with the healthy woman who died in hospital.

Bridge's sidekick is Dom, whose personal pronoun is “they". Poor Dom is terribly abused in the name of Bridge's obsessions, the way it often goes in friendships. There is cool banter and a lot of affection between them.

Important questions are raised about ethical issues and the consequences of our actions. However, my feeling is: pick a universe. I would like to spend time there with Bridge and Dom. But the multiverse is starting to feel like a gimmick to me, and sometimes confusing. So many identities to keep track of, each only slightly different from the others. So many minuscule adjustments. Yawn.

Don't consider this a review. It's my own musings. I've handed the book over to a reviewer who will hopefully appreciate it. Then we can provide a balanced, informed opinion.

But all I'm left with is disappointment. Maybe it's just me, who apparently doesn't grasp quantum physics AT ALL. The worm was too sour for me.

Who, what and where? Bridge by Lauren Beukes was published by Penguin and costs R295 at Exclusive Books.

What are we listening to?

“White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane.

♦ VWB ♦

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