Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

For how do you walk towards your father without being a son? How do you leave home without realising where you’re from?

This book… it’s a 568 page poem about brothers, running, fathers, a bridge, mistakes, Homer’s Odyssey, mothers, stories, dying, legacies, horses and a mule, clay, painting, David and the slaves, reading, Pont Neuf, grief, refugees, an engraved lighter, a piano, a typewriter, a peg…

…there was always a bulkiness to us. A bursting at the seams. Whatever we did, there was more: More washing, more cleaning, more eating, more dishes, more arguing, more fighting and throwing and hitting and farting… It didn’t matter how in control or on-top-of-things were, there was chaos a heartbeat away. We could be skinny and constantly agile, but there was never quite room for all of it – so everything was done at once.

Like many readers, I had eagerly awaited Zusak’s ‘next book’. And let’s be frank, we all waited very patiently. And then it arrived, this story about the five Dunbar brothers with their absent father and dead mother. And I pounced on it but just couldn’t get into it. I heard Zusak speak, which of course made me enthusiastic all over again but no, I didn’t get very far. And then my book group selected it, so I persevered through the first few chapters. And then something changed – the intimacy of those family moments, those wounded lovely boys, a mother’s heart breaking as she contemplated what she’d miss. And Zusak had me wholly, completely until the very last word.

You know your mother’s dying when she takes you out individually. We skip moments like stones.

From the service we carried her away. On one side was Henry, Clay and me. On the other, Michael, Tommy and Rory – same as our Archer Street football teams – and the woman inside was weightless. The coffin weighed a tonne. She was a feather wrapped up in a chopping block.

And we walked back out together – through the crowds and words of people, and a city all swollen with sun. And death came walking with us.

From there, there was a sort of bashed-up quiet. The table was arid between father and sons, and a hell of a lot of toast crumbs.

5/5 Stunning.

I received my copy of Bridge of Clay from the publisher, Random House UK, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

She kissed him on the back of his neck, very light, very soft. And then they ate the Iced VoVos. Right to the last.

There are so many Iced VoVo variations – a pavlova, ice cream sandwiches, lamingtons, truffles but I like this tart because it looks like a giant Vovo.

20 responses

    • I suggest give yourself a block of time to get through the first few chapters – once you get to the bit about Penny arriving in Australia, it starts to get really good. Hope you enjoy it.

  1. I loved this book and like you I struggled with the beginning. My advice to all my friends is skip across the first 60 pages to where the novel really begins, then reread those pages afterwards and it will all make sense.

    So many times I was brought to tears and the rest of that time I read with a lump in my throat. When I finished the book I couldn’t speak.

    This book is such a sensitive, poignant, tender yet wrenching book about grief, love and understanding. Everyone, please read it. You won’t be disappointed.

    • There were so many bits that made me cry – I won’t mention them for fear of spoilers but I’m sure we’re in heated agreement on those bits!

      I reckon the story really gets going when it comes to Penny’s migration – up until that point it seemed disjointed.

      When I heard Zusak speak last year he explained the careful structure of the novel – chapter lengths were mirrored at the beginning and end like building blocks in a bridge. There was more to it than that but I can’t find anything explaining it – wish I had paid more attention!

  2. Hi Kate, I had the same trouble with The Bridge of Clay and Boy Swallows the Universe. But I am so glad that I gave them each another go. I just loved The Bridge of Clay.

  3. Such an interesting experience Kate, well done for persevering. These days I’m a bit more ruthless in casting books aside if they don’t work for me but then I could miss out on something like this.

    *whispers* I’ve never read Zusak. I know! The quotes are just beautiful so I clearly need to rectify the situation 🙂

  4. I have only read The Book Thief by this author, which I loved. Bridge of Clay sounds like a more difficult read. Not sure I have the stamina required, although it does sound intriguing.

  5. For some reason I have not been remotely interested in reading this one, even though I loved The Book Thief and recently watched the film for the first time. I may now pick it up on the strength of your review.

  6. I didn’t like The Book Thief – there, I said it, cast me out. I might try this one, one day though – I don’t have time for 600 pages right now, particularly a verse novel which requires concentration.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing your experience trying to get into this book. I’ve tried to pick it up a few times and could never get into it. Perhaps I need to persevere more. Do you have a rough idea of how many pages into this text you finally clicked with it?

    Great review!

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