Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak
From Goodreads: Here is a story told inside out and back to front
Five Dunbar brothers are living – fighting, loving, grieving – in the perfect chaos of a house without grown-ups. Today, the father who left them has just walked right back in.
He has a surprising request: Who will build a bridge with him?
It is Clay, a boy tormented by a long-buried secret, who accepts. But why is Clay so broken? And why must he fulfil this extraordinary challenge?
Bridge of Clay is about a boy caught in a current, a boy intent on destroying everything he has in order to become everything he needs to be. Ahead of him lies the bridge, the vision that will save both his family and himself.
It will be a miracle and nothing less.
Thanks to Netgalley for giving me an E-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
When I first heard this was being released, back when booktubers were posting about it in their Bookexpo videos, I was really interested in the novel. I didn’t know much about it, but like most people, I fell in love with the beauty and sorrow of The Book Thief and wanted to see what else Zusak could do [I know he’s written other books but still]. Then, when I was accepted for the review copy, I felt my interest dwindling.
Bridge of Clay is a pretty hard book to get into, at least to begin with. There are always two narratives in each section. At first I found this a bit baffling, then I got the hang of it and enjoyed it for a bit. It’s possible to follow along when the second narrative [usually in the past] is about absent characters such as the mother, or when there was a section about how the Dunbar parents met for the first time. But it becomes confusing, and a touch frustrating, when the second narrative is about characters who also appear in the present, such as Matthew or Clay. It’s not the easiest thing to keep up with, and it’s not really something I recommend you read just before bed. Not because the book will give you nightmares, or anything like that, but because it requires you to be concentrating as you read.
That being said, if you’re willing to take your time with it, Bridge of Clay is a thoroughly enjoyable read. As strange as the synopsis makes the book sound, it’s actually very charming and gripping. In some ways, it reminds me somewhat of Haruki Murakami’s novels, particularly with the inclusion of all the pets. The Dunbars seem to have a habit of adopting strange animals and then naming them after Greek heroes in homage to Homer. My particular favourite is Achilles, the mule. Yes, they really do have a mule, which sometimes breaks into their house when given half a chance. It’s definitely a weird little quirk to the story that works nicely. More importantly, it points to the semi-feral status of the Dunbar boys. Their mother, Penelope, is dead, and their father abandons them, leaving Matthew [the eldest, and the narrator] to try and support himself and his four brothers.
Which is why, as a reader, you feel a certain amount of second-hand anger when their father comes back, seemingly on a whim, and requests help with building a bridge. There’s a kind of strange reality at play here, something that seems beyond the realms of possibility. He’s not just after a little bridge to go over the pond in his backyard. Nope, he’s after an actual huge-ass bridge. Which is why it makes sense that he needs help, but not so much why he asks the brothers. It’s pretty obvious that he’s doing it to try and build a [cough cough] bridge between them, but it still seems a bit ridiculous that he would have the nerve to come ask for a favour after abandoning them. When Clay agrees, to the anger of the other brothers, you can’t help but feel a mixture of anger and sadness over his decision.
This points to what is clearly Zusak’s finest tool in his writing arsenal– his ability to write real, poignant characters. Ones you could imagine bumping into in the street, or living on the other side of town. Zusak’s world, as strange as it may sometimes seem, is still our own. He’s able to bring his characters to life, able to make you wish that you knew them outside of the confines of the paper. It’s truly a magical talent.
And here’s another thing he does well– writing prose. The prose in Bridge of Clay, like in Zusak’s other works, is nothing short of art. It’s lyrical and poetic and it just pulls at something inside of you. At times, it can be a little heavy-handed. There were moments towards the end of the book where I was uncertain what was actually going on, but mostly they’re just gorgeous. Anyone who is interested in writing beautiful prose should absolutely check out this book, and anything else that has Zusak’s master touch. Between the brilliant characters and heart-wrenching descriptions, it’s really no surprise that I sobbed my heart out at the end of this book. And I know I won’t be alone in that, either. I will grant a cookie to anyone who is able to make it through this novel without tearing up.
In conclusion, Bridge of Clay was a beautiful and haunting read that I will definitely be recommending to friends. There are times when the dual narrative is confusing, and sometimes the descriptions become so descriptive and so saturated with metaphors that it’s hard to keep up with the plot, but the amazing characters and the sheer beauty of the prose is definitely worth the amount of concentration this book expects from you. I’m giving it an 8.5/10 stars.
Has anyone else read this book or plans to? What are your thoughts on it? I love hearing peoples’ thoughts and feelings on books I review on this blog, so please feel free to leave a comment in the comment section below and join in the discussion ❤