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This is one of those books that despite being fraught with suspense and drama it leaves you wondering how on earth to categorise it. It's marketed as a thriller and yet it isn't really. More of a dark contemporary suspense-filled drama that will have you reading well into the night. I have to say that I enjoyed this book far more than her last but it still doesn't beat her fantastic debut thriller "The Daughter in Law" which was phenomenally brilliant.
The story begins with an unnamed character slipping into bed and snuggling up to a child as she relives the memories of the past that still haunt her, a letter clutched in her hand. Then it slips back in time to 1991 then forwards to 2009 and then back again to 1988...where the story really begins. The timelines might appear confusing at first but they become clearer as the story progresses, after which the main timelines are 1988 and 2009 with the progression of time going forward. I will begin where the story does...
Dorset 1988: Eleven year old Sasha lives on the vast estate of Saxby House where her parents are employed by matriarch Josephine Clemonte as housekeeper and head gardener respectively. They live in a cottage provided to them under the terms of their employment and their children, Sasha and Hunter, enjoy the vast grounds in which to play. In the summer of that year, the lady of the manor's granddaughter comes to stay along with her parents and Sasha is excited at the prospect of meeting someone her own age. The moment she meets Caitlin Sasha is completely enamoured and a friendship is born.
However, Caitlin is not always as she appears and Sasha often hears her mumbling to herself and when she asks her to repeat it, Caitlin just stares at her blankly before continuing on her way. In awe of her beauty, Sasha revels in this new-found friendship despite Caitlin's odd behaviour and often cruel treatment of her new best friend. Regardless, Sasha is eager to be the bestest friend, hungry for her acceptance and approval and eager to please.
What follows is a foray into Sasha's sometimes lonely existence throughout the rest of the year when Caitlin is back at school in London. She longs for the summer when for three months, she and Caitlin are together once again. The following year Sasha meets Chuck, the son of a family friend, who attends the various parties the family hold whether it be New Years Eve or a birthday celebration. Sasha is drawn to Chuck who isn't as snobbish or as aloof as Caitlin though she realises that nothing could ever come of their friendship because people like them don't really mix or marry people like her. Still, she enjoys her time with Chuck...when she isn't with Caitlin, that is...because he accepts her for who she is while Caitlin is quick to point out the differences in their social status, as if some kind of power play to keep Sasha in her place.
And yet, Sasha is still eager to maintain their friendship and will do anything to please the girl who so obviously regards her more of a toy that can be picked up and put down whenever she chooses. As if Sasha is merely someone to entertain her during months of boredom.
Then one night Sasha discovers a secret about the Clemontes but is persuaded by Caitlin's mother Ava never to reveal it. As the reader, we are not privy to the secret until towards the end when the bombshell is revealed at Caitlin's wedding.
London 2009: It's been twenty years since Sasha and Caitlin became friends and yet the status quo remains the same. Despite everything she dishes out to her "best friend", Caitlin proudly proclaims that she never apologises. While as an adolescent I can understand her need for acceptance but as an adult I'm surprise Sasha continues to stand for it. But then Sasha has a plan...for what? Revenge? Or truth?
Caitlin's on-off relationship with Chuck over the years has somehow managed to earn a proposal which promptly preceded an impromptu trip to Greece for a "hen holiday". Her role as bridesmaid was to ensure everything from the trip to Greece to the choosing of the gown to the fittings to the party favours to the actual wedding itself went smoothly. Caitlin didn't appear to be at all interested in organising her own wedding and left it all in the hands of her competent best friend and bridesmaid, Sasha. In fact, the bride herself is completely indifferent about the whole event which puzzles Sasha. Surely Caitlin would be revelling in the glow of engagement and excited at the prospect of marrying Chuck...but it seems she's not particularly bothered. Until she sees the perfect wedding dress which bears a striking resemblance to her mother's own, stained red after convincing her mother to allow her to wear it for a play they put on one summer in which Caitlin had the starring role. But is it marrying Chuck that is at the forefront of her mind? Or is it the prospect of getting revenge on her emotionally-absent mother? Sasha isn't sure. But one thing remains clear...Sasha's own plans for Caitlin's big day.
While I went into this book expecting a thriller, I was surprised to discover that I enjoyed it even though it wasn't. Despite its slow start, the tension builds throughout where the pace picks up towards the halfway mark after which it explodes in a myriad of rainbow coloured shards to reveal the truth. However, everything is smoke and mirrors as the reader is left assuming something that isn't truth whilst revealing something completely different in the end.
A real page-turner I was surprised to enjoy THE BRIDESMAID more than I thought I would. But I wouldn't categorise it as a thriller. It's more of a dark contemporary suspense-filled drama with a twist. But in the end, even the twist kind of fell flat, not just to the reader but to the characters it was aimed at in the first place. I could relate to adolescent Sasha and her desire to please Caitlin in an attempt to maintain their friendship because I was Sasha at that age too. It's a difficult time where you are navigating the change from child to young adult and some of us are just eaten alive by the Caitlins of this world.
A story about friendship, co-dependency, family and secrets, THE BRIDESMAID is a compelling and somewhat addictive tale of two friends from two different worlds. Recommended to those who like dark contemporary tales.
A complicated family, dark secrets that interweave them together. The differences between rich and poor, make for a compelling read. You will want to understand what dark, disturbing secrets that hold everyone. A great read.
The Bridesmaid by Nina Manning Published: May 27, 2021 Boldwood Books This title is available to read for free with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.
Nina Manning studied psychology and was a restaurant-owner and private chef (including to members of the royal family). She is the founder and co-host of Sniffing The Pages, a book review podcast. She lives in Dorset.
“All games come to an end, and eventually, one of us will have to declare the other the winner.”
Sasha and Caitlin have been friends since childhood, though their differences have always been kept at the forefront. Sasha is from a working-class family. Her parents worked on the estate owned by Caitlin’s family. Their friendship was not supposed to happen. But now Sasha is planning Caitlin’s wedding. Here comes the bride…
I found this book entertaining, but in a completely different way than I would typically when reading a novel. The imagery was stunning, the characters were well defined, but the plot wasn’t as intricate as I expected.
The twist's reveal was well played, though it took almost the entire book to get there. There aren’t any devious dealings or deceitful motives. The twist is more realistic than that.
I liked Sasha’s character, despite her constant need to be praised by Caitlin. Caitlin was shallow and not very nice, but that was the point of her character.
This was my first novel by Nina Manning, and I would read her again. I did figure out part of the twist before the story revealed it, but the second portion did take me by surprise, so it worked out.
This is an emotional story from start to finish, and I found the underlying themes relevant. I enjoyed this title quite a bit. Well done, Ms. Manning.
We all may not have have had these relationships but we’ve seen them for sure. Friends out of necessity and proximity but unsustainable because of differing backgrounds and personalities. Manning creates some interesting characters and scenery with a juicy story.