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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


On Wandsworth Bridge

Hattie Pond

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To purchase On Wandsworth Bridge

Title: On Wandsworth Bridge
Author: Hattie Pond
Genre: Novel
Written: (2018)
Length: 351 pages
Availability: On Wandsworth Bridge - US
On Wandsworth Bridge - UK
On Wandsworth Bridge - Canada
  • Published posthumously, in 2018
  • With full-color illustrations by Num Stibbe
  • With an Afterword by Pond's husband, Martin Bridgewater

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Our Assessment:

A- : appealingly off-beat; good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Literary Review . 12/2018 Violet Hudson

  From the Reviews:
  • "On Wandsworth Bridge is many things. It is an acerbic satire on the art world. It is a sci-fi novel in which time travel features freely. It is a love story. It is a feminist exploration of the place of women in the world, now and in the future. It is a warning against cults and demagogues. But what it is mostly is a highly original, very strange, wonderful read." - Violet Hudson, Literary Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       On Wandsworth Bridge is ... a pleasant surprise. From beginning to pretty much the end. It is buoyantly creative -- but also works so well in no small part because it is also so traditionally grounded, not letting itself get carried away by quirkiness or the outlandish -- indeed, managing to make the quirk and outlandish seem almost perfectly normal. The trappings of science fiction -- time travel ! -- are a significant part of the story, but one hesitates to call it a science fiction novel; it doesn't feel that way nearly at all (though obviously it is ...). The London arts-scene features prominently, and then there's an extended chunk of the action that is set in ... contemporary Mauritania. It's an implausible mix -- with a heap of small, bizarre circumstances and occurrences along the way -- yet, time-travel-physics and experiences aside, it almost all feels entirely credible. Pond hits just the right note with her narrative voice, convincing readers as she leads them through a story that, in its outlines and fundamentals and most of the episodes, is entirely far-fetched -- making for a novel that is consistently both comfortable and bracing. It's quite an achievement.
       The key seems to be in the characters' own limited hold and understanding, a philosophical acceptance of things, however odd and awkward they are. Two central characters, in particular, Tommy Willoughby and Hugo de Lamartine, are repeatedly forced to adapt to circumstances beyond their control; they go very comfortably (if not always happily) with the flow, which often turns out to go in very strange and unexpected directions -- much as the readers also must. Many of the other, supporting characters are very sure of themselves, and have their own ideas -- but this is very much a world where the best laid plans do indeed constantly go astray.
       The novel opens with Tommy finding herself in present-day London -- but rather unclear about ... everything. She shares a flat with two others, and helps out at an art gallery, but:

She had no memory; didn't, in fact, remember anything at all before arriving at University over a year ago.
       It turns out she arrived from the future -- some sixty years in the future -- but the time-travel has clouded her memories of that time, and it takes a while -- and a nudge from another visitor from that future -- to bring that back into her mind. As she eventually is reminded -- because among everything else she had forgotten was the reason why she had been sent back in time -- :
     There's a man living in this city who is about to write a book, a very dangerous book. Ypur mission is to get to know him, become his friend and stop him writing it.
       The present-day world she entered has been prepared for her -- a place to stay, an allowance (inadequate, because of some confusion with the original instructions), conditions that would lead her to cross paths with the man in question -- but after a year it still hasn't worked out the way it was planned -- in no small part because Tommy has forgotten everything .....
       The man Tommy is meant to get to know, and keep from writing the dangerous book, is known in the future as Hudelam. In present-day London he still goes about as Hugo de Lamartine -- though in fact he was born simply (and English-ly) as Hugh Fisher. Among his dabblings is the book Trapped Light: An Interpretation of the Photographic Art, academic nonsense which had caught the eye of Amphelisia Camber -- also known as Über Professor Camber. She made it a set text, and that made Hugo: the books was in steady demand -- and even: "became one of the few international academic texts permitted entrance to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea".
       Hugo has a day-job, too -- working in the patent office. Among the patent filings to cross his desk is one on time-travel ... but he swept it aside; fortunately, his capable assistant, who watches after the office in what becomes Hugo's extended absence, comes across it too.
       On Wandsworth Bridge is, basically, the story of how Hugo de Lamartine became Hudelam -- though told as Tommy (and others from the future, including in a parallel time-stream) try to prevent it from happening. Among the things this involves is Tommy's search for her flatmate Hendrix, who seems to have disappeared -- perhaps because Über Professor Camber kicked him off her course after he tried to write an essay considering two photographs: "in the light of Hugo de Lamartine's Trapped Light" -- a hopeless undertaking, it turns out. Camber, meanwhile, has big plans for Hugo, enlisting him to write two more book, cementing his place in the academy -- and her nefarious ideas:
     The second book would be a special book. You see, Hugo, I am a victim of my own success. Everything I have aimed for I have achieved. I need a dream for the rest of my life. I have some ideas for a book, which you, with your gift for expressing things in a way that makes your readers work a little, are the ideal person to write.
       Hugo is easily won over, but things don't go quite as planned. Various stumbling blocks for all concerned -- including dealing with a dog -- appear, and are raised. Tommy gets some help from someone from her time -- and Hugo winds up stranded in Mauritania for the longest time .....
       There is a great deal of bumbling, by many of those concerned -- especially the hapless (in their different ways) Hugo and Tommy -- but many of the stumbles make for delightful episodes and scenes. It is good fun and adventure, of a very varied sort.
       Even as it is plot-driven, summary doesn't nearly do On Wandsworth Bridge justice. It's cleverly presented; time travel isn't all too easy here (and easier for some than others), and Pond is cautious in how she doses it out across the narrative -- which is mostly kept linear, with a few nice exceptions (and re-turns). The story goes off on different tangents, but they nicely overlap and come together in the big picture -- it's very well (but not obtrusively-obviously) structured. The tapestry that emerges is luscious, with so much to it -- and there's good humor to it all, too, not least in the fun Pond pokes at academia, the art world, and cults of personality (again: without hammering any of her various points home to bluntly or specifically).
       A consistently surprising and almost entirely satisfying read, On Wandsworth Bridge is very good fun. Recommended.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 January 2019

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On Wandsworth Bridge: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British author Hattie Pond lived 1951 to 2013.

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© 2019 the complete review

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