Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: String Bridge by Jessica Bell

3 out of 5 Stars

String Bridge is an emotional, women’s fiction novel about a musician, Melody Hill, who gave up her music for her husband and daughter, and is now struggling to find out how to regain her sense of self and a life that includes the music she loves. The novel is chock-full of honesty, and is written with emphasis on the feeling, the musicality, and the genuineness of the written word.

String Bridge, for me, was a 3 star read. It’s an interesting book, with unique characters who make you want to read on. However, there are just too many little flaws that prevent it from jumping all the way to a 5.

String Bridge does an excellent job at capturing the realness, the grittiness, the musicality, and the occasional chaos of a musician/struggling woman’s mind. It lets you really see and feel what Melody is going through, and come to intimately know her many weaknesses. However, I did occassionaly find this emphasis muddled up my reading, when certain strings of jumbled thought seemed unnecessary and confusingly added to everyday life. This, though irritating, can be easily overlooked.

What I could not overlook, unfortunately, was that so much of the novel's events happened too coincidentally. If Melody wanted to talk to a friend, she would never have to wait more than a few minutes before that friend magically appeared online. When she’s looking for a way into the music world, the most perfect opportunity—one most people who’ve worked at it for years couldn’t even dream of—miraculously appears in the form of someone from her past. Even the way things get screwed up happen in perfect time, but there’s always something that happens right on track to get her back to somewhat normal, and the people in her life seem to give her many more chances than anyone would get in the real world. But, if you can manage to suspend reality and look at Melody's emotions as the connection to real life and many of the coincidental events as pure fiction, String Bridge can become the compelling piece it's meant to be.

For a review of the soundtrack, On the Other Side, Click here

Jessica Bell is a literary women's fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter who grew up in Melbourne, Australia, to two gothic rock musicians who had successful independent careers during the '80s and early '90s.

She currently lives in Athens, Greece and works as a freelance writer/editor for English Language Teaching publishers worldwide, such as HarperCollins, Pearson Education and Macmillan Education.

In addition to String Bridge, Jessica has published a book of poetry called Twisted Velvet Chains. A full list of poems and short stories published in various anthologies and literary magazines can be found under Published Works & Awards, on her website.

From September 2012 Jessica will be hosting the Homeric Writers' Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca, home of Odysseus.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On the Other Side Review: Thoughts on the Soundtrack to Jessica Bell's String Bridge

On the Other Side is a beautifully emotive record of the deepest thoughts and turmoils of String Bridge’s main character, Melody Hill, a musician who gave up a life of music for her husband and child, but is now trying to bring music back into her life. The album is heartfelt and intense, with a mix of raw acoustic energy and moody synths.

When I first read the lyrics accompanying String Bridge, I worried that the songs would be short and simple and very literal as the lyrics seemed to be; however, the rise and fall of the instrumentation and of Jessica’s voice make all the difference. For me, the cd has the sound of what I would imagine the love child of The Cranberries, Garbage, and Joni Mitchell to be. (This also makes a lot of sense, as I can imagine Melody listening to all three of these artists.) It’s the kind of music you can just close your eyes and feel, and it works very well with the story/plot of the book. Sadly, as I did not request the music until AFTER reading String Bridge, all I can offer is the post-reading experience.

The two problems I have with On the Other Side, which perhaps I have set myself up for for reviewing a 'soundtrack', are the similarity of the songs and the overly-literal aspects of the lyrics. The songs are quite powerful by themselves, but when I listen to all of them together, I can barely tell where one song ends and the other begins. They all have the same lilting, ebb and flow of soft and heavy guitar, light and intense vocals, etc, etc, that I don’t really get a feel for one over the other. Essentially, Melody is always angsting and always doing so in the same eerie manner. Honestly, I don't feel the growth. I keep listening and trying to find out where something changes up a bit, but, particularly with the extra background instrumentation, it all becomes one wave of Melody’s misfortune. This does mimic the craziness of the novel and of Melody's life, but musically I really wanted more. Even if Melody broke out of her flow to become louder or raspier or more real, I probably would be satisfied.

I also found the songs to be extremely literal to everything going on at that moment in the story that they are meant for. In some respects, this is a good thing, because you can totally imagine her just breaking into song at that moment and singing “oh my god, how can you do this exact thing to me.” But if the reader is to imagine Melody as a serious artist, creating songs to play on her tour of the US, it’s a bit harder to believe that she wouldn’t be a bit more imaginative. It also makes the songs hard to relate to, which is augmented by the sameness of the tone of all of the songs. The emotional force behind them is so strong, but it’s not like I could place myself in the lyrics without knowing the story. Even as I first read through the lyrics, it felt like “oh, okay, she’s saying the same thing over again. And again. And again.” I understand that soundtracks are meant to mirror and augment the scenes of a story, but, as I said, I wanted some sign of growth.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy On the Other Side. I think it makes a decent companion to the book, and the musicianship is certainly of good quality. Jessica Bell's voice is incredible and a delight to listen to. On the Other Side is a soundtrack after all, so it makes sense that it works best as background music, for emotions rather than lyrics.

Of course, I could not leave you with only a review for the soundtrack, so tune in next week for a review of String Bridge.

To purchase the soundtrack:
Amazon UK: