The Young Bride | If a story becomes a pun
A young woman shows up at an upper-middle-class house giving no forewarning. “I’m the young bride”, she says. She was promised to The Son three years ago, and now she arrives to marry him. The Son is not there, though. She has to wait for him; a time to learn about her new family and herself.
The Young Bride is a short novel by Italian author Alessandro Baricco. It was published by Feltrinelli in 2015 as the last chapter of his tetralogy The Bodies, composed by Emmaus, Mr Gwyn, and Three Times at Down. The four books explore different genres and themes, but they are bonded by the importance of bodies in human life, but above all in writing. Together they form an analysis, an essay, on the fact that before being mind and soul, everyone is a body. The tetralogy was published in a single volume in 2018.
The art of waiting
Nobody remembered the arrival of The Young Bride. Or better, everybody knew the girl would have arrived after her 18th birthday, but no-one noticed that the time has come. The Son is in England to look after the family business, but everybody is sure he will come back soon. Nevertheless, the family kindly receives her and The Mother entrusts Modesto, the butler, to instruct her in the house’s rules. First of all, being afraid of the night. Then, she learns that unhappiness is unwelcome, books are forbidden and never upset The Father. Even though the Young Bride doesn’t fully understand The Family’s oddities, she does her best to follow its rules.
Yet, The Son doesn’t return. He starts sending back home incoherent objects, but no news about his arrival. His fiancé can do nothing but wait for him, trying to recover things she had to forget and things she never knew, such as details about her body, and the many ways to use it. Any family member takes part in her education, allowing her to know them and helping the girl to kill time. Because The Young Bride never loses her certainty: The Son will come back to her. And when he does, she will be ready to be his wife.
An exercise in style that breaks the fourth wall
The Young Bride shares some points with José Saramago‘s The Tale of the Unknown Island. Besides Modesto, no character has a name, and the setting remains undefined, too. But while the Portuguese writer follows a simple plot, in Baricco’s novel the plot becomes a mere pretext and characters seem to exist only as narrative tools. As the Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, they are sort of entities, and The Young Bride is the only one that shows a real evolution. They aren’t looking for an author, though, who on the contrary is very present, and becomes a character in a sort of narrative frame.
Any family member has a story and its own voice, so as the narrator and the “characters” that seem to belong to reality. The voices and points of view interchange throughout the narration as if following an extreme stream of consciousness. No separation leads the reader from one narrator to another, so it is never clear who is talking.
(Obviously, pages like these, to the editor who in a few months will be dealing with them, will seem completely useless and sadly unhelpful to the progress of the story. With the usual politeness, he will suggest that I delete them. I already know that I won’t, but as of now I can admit to being no more likely than he to be right. The fact is that some write books, others read them: God knows who is in the better position to understand something about them. […] When in doubt, I tend to rely on my blindness and take at face value the memory of my skin. So now I will close four parentheses, and do so with tranquil confidence, lulled by this regional train that is carrying me south.)))) Voilà.
As The Family follows an endless routine, apparently immune to external events, the reader can only follow the narrative flow. The story becomes less and less important, giving always more space to puns and complex literary constructions. The character-author himself reveals from time to time his tricks and expedients, giving an insight into his work. So, the fourth wall disappears, creating a sophisticated allegory about narrative and writing. And books, dreaded objects in the story, remain in the spotlight as the real legacy of any writer. The plot never actually vanishes, but what started as a romantic novel becomes a metaphysical fairytale, out of time and space, talking about the art of narration.
A sensual allegory
Some aspects of The Young Bride recall a family saga. Many works belonging to the genre, from Gabriel García Marquez‘s One Hundred Years of Solitude to the TV show House of the Dragon, follow the story of a whole family throughout many years. On the opposite, The Young Bride focuses on a very short time, and only the end leaps three years forward. Instead of discovering their future, the story deeply explores the past of any character. Again, Modesto is the only exception, as he let only The Young Bride know a single detail about his private life. The real and impeccable minister of the house keeps everyone’s secrets, revealing nothing about himself to The Family.
Sex and the art of seduction play a huge role in the novel. When The Family meets The Young Bride for the first time, The Mother thinks she is a boy. When the girl arrives at their house, she is a pretty young woman, totally unaware of her beauty and her body. The Daughter is the first one leading her to the discovery of her body and the pleasure it can give. The sex scenes are part of the whole allegory surrounding the characters, underlining their features. Moreover, they are part of the literary exercise in style; when the character-author is questioned about why there are so many sex scenes in this novel, he simply answers that it is because they are difficult to write.
The Young Bride starts as a slightly alienating romance to become a fairytale and a literary essay. A mystic allegory about the nature of writing, human life, and what one can leave to the world.