South African author Lauren Beukes is probably best known for her novel The Shining Girls, adapted by Apple TV, and her new novel Bridge has some mind-bending similarities to that predecessor. While The Shining Girls was about time travel, Bridge looks at the multiverse idea, that we can jump between different versions of reality.
The story focuses on Bridge, a young woman recently bereaved when her neuroscientist mother died of a brain tumour. When clearing out her house, she finds something that she remembers as the dreamworm, a very rare hallucinogenic that her mum took. But she discovers that it does more than just take you on a heavy trip – it actually takes you inside another version of yourself in a parallel universe. She then comes to realise that maybe her mother isn’t dead after all, but has jumped somewhere else.
This leads to a thrilling and complex chase, as Bridge tries to find her mother, while other forces rage against her, trying to stop all this dangerous tinkering between dimensions.
The book is pulse-pounding in its plotting, but is full of smart and poignant ideas about both grief and the complicated relationship between mothers and daughters. The central narrative is a fantasy about wish fulfilment, and like all such fantasies, it comes at a price.
Beukes handles the balance between action and emotion brilliantly, with a certain amount of self-referential black humour and terrific and realistic characterisation across the board. This is speculative fiction of the highest calibre.
Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist.