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Synopsis: Of the ‘young and story-hardened’ Dunbar boys, it is Clay, the fourth of five brothers, with the most moving stories of them all. When their estranged father returns to enlist help to build a bridge, Clay is the only volunteer. He becomes obsessively absorbed in the task – it is clear that, for him, the project means more than just a bridge. The secret to why Clay is building lies in the tide of Dunbar past…
I have been excited to read Bridge of Clay ever since I bought it at a Q&A and book signing with Markus Zusak. With his other novel The Book Thief up there with my favourite books of all time, my expectations were high! I wanted to read it at a time when I didn’t have much going on and could savour every page… but then I realised I could be waiting forever and gave in to the temptation to pull it from my bookshelf!
The first thing that struck me about Bridge of Clay was the author’s unique writing style. Its rhythms and repetitions make it feel like poetry-in-prose. However, it’s not over-adorned, instead creating an intimate sense of voice. You could be sitting by a fire, being told a story by a friend or family member that has been passed down for generations.
The central premise of the story is enchantingly simple. This lends it a mythical feel, reflecting the ancient stories of the Iliad and Odyssey that the brothers grow up with. From this simple premise, the novel’s world expands to an epic scale worthy of Homer that spans countries and generations.
Despite this, it deals with the small things as beautifully as the grand. I particularly liked how much emphasis was placed on the small, domestic, seemingly insignificant moments through which families show their love.
Short chapters and rhythmic writing make the novel lovely and flowing to read. Personally, I also love fragmented narratives such as this, that keep my brain in gear as I try to piece together what is happening. However, be warned: it is not ‘light reading’ by any stretch! I had multiple crying episodes as the emotions build towards a devastating climax.
When I listened to Markus Zusak talk about Bridge of Clay, I was particularly in awe of how deeply he knew his characters. He talked about each one of them as if they were real, even knowing how they would react in different real-life situations.
This made the characters the most joyful part of the book for me. They are the reason I felt a genuine sense of loss when I turned the final pages (the most reliable test of a great book in my opinion!)
The best way that I can describe the characters is the understanding you have of a good friend – you couldn’t sum them up in a word or a few sentences, but you just know them. In Bridge of Clay, the characters are real without being defined.
“There are hundreds of thoughts per every word spoken, and that’s if they’re spoken at all.”
Read if: you want to be moved by a timeless story of familial love.
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Have you read Bridge of Clay or any other books by Markus Zusak? What did you think? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!