Bridge of Clay is about a boy who is caught in the current – of destroying everything he has, to become all he needs to be. He’s a boy in search of greatness, as a cure for memory and tragedy. He builds a bridge to save his family, but also to save himself. It’s an attempt to transcend humanness, to make a single, glorious moment:
A miracle and nothing less.
Title: Bridge of Clay
Author: Markus Zusak
Genre: contemporary, fiction, adult
Release: October 9, 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia
Link to buy book here.
The tagline for this book is, “A boy, a bridge, a miracle, and nothing less.” I didn’t understand the significance of this seemingly throwaway line but LITTLE DID I KNOW, it’s the emotive backbone of the entire novel. At the start of Bridge of Clay we’re introduced by one of the brothers, digging up a typewriter and the bones of a snake and a dog, then taking them home. (I know, weird right?) Michael, one of the boys in the story, is telling us what happened as he writes it on the typewriter.
I found this book overtly ambiguous. We’re introduced to the Murderer, who seems to be ephemeral but THEN, he pats the boys’ cat who curls up in his lap. Dun dunn, Murderer in the house. Safe to say, I was confused for the first 50 pages but Zusak’s writing is beautiful and sets a stunning scene in your head. The dialogue between the Dunbar boys (the five brothers) was so snappy and characterised too, it sucked me in immediately and even though I didn’t understand at times what the significance of a moment was, the boys pushed me into the moment with their distinct voices.
This book deals with grief and loss, the chapters alternating so we can see Penny Dunbar as a refugee, her experiences and her strength of character. She is beautiful and brilliant and brave. Her struggle broke my heart and when I read one line, a SINGLE line of dialogue closer to the end, I welled up with tears. I can’t emphasise enough how effortlessly the past circumstances of this family shines through the pages of Bridge of Clay. But while I connected to the circumstances of these boys and the emphasis of their emotional pain as a history, I found it difficult to connect with the characters page-by-page. The telling was a tad ambiguous, matter of fact, and hid insights from the reader (maybe I missed something, or sped through too fast).
The style Bridge of Clay was written in was sweeping and lovely but the ambiguity of it, the small measured moments of character in a pause where they had the opportunity to say something or take note but didn’t, that’s what I struggled with. I wanted to understand more, to love them more, but I felt a bit road-blocked. It’s likely down to my personal taste, the dialogue was my favourite because it was clear, crisp and clean. The descriptions, not as much.
Overall, Bridge of Clay was unpredictable but honest. Its moments of grief were grounding and real, the boys’ relationship with each other was chafing but loving. I adored the way this book touched my heart at places, I just wish I could’ve felt that way the entire time I was reading. This is a story about Clay, who built a bridge (literally and figuratively), and it was lovely. I wish I connected more with the characters’ daily insights, rather than just with the themes as a whole, but I still liked this book a whole lot and would heartily recommend it if you’re after something slower and more grounding in atmosphere.
3.75 / 5 stars
Thank you to the wonderful Pan Macmillan Australia for the review copy!