Genre: Australian Fiction, Family
Narrative Style: First person, non-chronological
Synopsis: The five Dunbar brothers are left without adult supervision after their mother dies and their father abandons them. They live by their own rules. When their father returns to ask them to help build a bridge, only Clay is able to respond.
Reading Challenge: 2020 Alphabet Soup: Author Challenge
After reading – and loving – The Book Thief a few years ago, I avoided reading any other books by Zusak. I’m not really sure why. The Book Thief was such a great book and seemed like such a one off, I wasn’t sure that any other book by the author would be able to live up to it. I’m happy to report that Bridge of Clay is easily as good.
There are similarities with The Book Thief. Bridge of Clay is narrated by the oldest Dunbar brother, Matthew but he is not at the centre of the story. As with Death in The Book Thief, he is often narrating other people’s stories so that he becomes an omniscient narrator of others’ lives. This gives the novel a curious tone, caught between the detachment of Matthew’s position and the emotional resonance of the stories that he tells.
At the beginning of the novel, the boys’ father returns for the first time since the death of their mother, asking for help to build a bridge. Only Clay is able to respond and he leaves with their father, despite risking the wrath of Matthew who tells him he will beat him if he ever returns. The story of the parents, Penny and Michael is intertwined with current events, leading up to two devastating events for Clay in particular but the rest of the Dunbar boys as well.
The building of the bridge is literal and metaphoric as it allows the boys to rebuild their relationship with their father and Matthew comes to realise why he could no longer stay and why Clay was the only one who could rescue him.
This is an incredibly powerful novel. If I’d been reading this at home, and not on the tram, I’d probably have had a good cry at the end. This a story about death and grief but also about redemption and recovery. It’s also about the ties of family and the love that brothers have for each other. Zusak took a long time to write this book, admitting that if he hadn’t finished it this time, he might have had to abandon it. I’m certainly glad that he persevered.