Bridge of Clay, Review: Markus Zusak’s beguiling narrative

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak is masterful in its capacity to move readers. An epic tale of normal people swimming against the flood of life. Read my full review.

Bridge of Clay Synopsis

Bridge of Clay Review

Long-listed for Indie Book Awards Fiction 2019

Let me tell you about our brother.
The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay.
Everything happened to him.
We were all of us changed through him.

The Dunbar boys bring each other up in a house run by their own rules. A family of ramshackle tragedy – their mother is dead, their father has fled – they love and fight, and learn to reckon with the adult world.

It is Clay, the quiet one, who will build a bridge; for his family, for his past, for his sins. He builds a bridge to transcend humanness. To survive.

A miracle and nothing less.

Markus Zusak makes his long-awaited return with a profoundly heartfelt and inventive novel about a family held together by stories, and a young life caught in the current: a boy in search of greatness, as a cure for a painful past.

(Pan Macmillan (Picador Australia), October 2018)

Genre: Action-Adventure, Drama, Mystery, Literature

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I adored Markus Zusak’s modern classic The Book Thief. Its subject matter will hopefully never be repeated. And that novel’s mastery, it’s knife-edge balance of whimsy and gravitas was never going to be repeated. So the comparisons should, and in my review will stop there.

There is much to admire within Bridge of Clay, but like most novels nearing 600 pages, it also has its weaknesses.

The narrative voice and framing is unusual, and often oblique. Many readers have found that confusing, but I found it beguiling — I trusted the author and so was both a willing audience and participant — eager to marvel in the colour, intensity and heart imbued in the commonplace and accepting of the challenge being presented. And one should not underestimate the challenge, patience is required.

Poetic prose

The narrative lays down a series of puzzle pieces, in what at first seems to be no apparent order; shards of a broken vase that is the Dunbar boys’ lives. These shards are depicted in staccato yet artful and at times, quite literally, poetic prose.

… 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. A pair of mismatched salt and pepper shakers stood in the middle, like some comedy duo. One portly, one tall.

The Wall Street Journal reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon captured its essence, saying “In words that seem to ache with emotion, or perhaps, more aptly, with the suppression of it, Mr. Zusak moves us in and out of time.”

“We skip the moments like stones.” ― Markus Zusak, Bridge of Clay

On several occasions, I found myself more engaged by the writing style than the story being told. And even then, there were moments of too-much-of-a-good-thing within Bridge of Clay, and dare I say it decadent procrastination.

But what lingers longest in memory is this… Bridge of Clay is masterful in its capacity to move even the hardest of hearts, on not just one moment, but many that arise in this epic tale of normal people swimming against the flood of life. A standout for me was that of the immigrant experience, closely followed by the innate bond between animals and humans (even brothers).

Markus Zusak’s novel celebrates the strength of people at their most broken, the beauty of our scars and legacy of great loves and stories shared.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

Get your copy of Bridge of Clay from:

Booktopia (AU) Book Depository Kobo Amazon Bookshop (US)
OR listen to the audiobook FREE with Audible’s Trial (check eligibility)

“There are hundreds of thoughts per every word spoken, and that’s if they’re spoken at all.” ― Markus Zusak, Bridge of Clay

Which cover art do you prefer?Markus Zusak's Bridge of Clay - Book Covers Around the World

If you like the sound of Bridge of Clay, you may also enjoy reading:
Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls  /  The Origin of Me by Bernard Gallate  /  Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon  /  Cloudstreet by Tim Winton  /  Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

About the Author, Markus Zusak

Markus Zusak is the bestselling author of six novels, including The Book Thief and The Messenger. His books have been translated into more than forty languages, to both popular and critical acclaim. He lives in Sydney with his wife and two children.

Connect with Markus at his website and on Facebook.

Other Bridge of Clay Reviews

“Markus Zusak’s rich characterisation is dragged down by overwrought style.” — Irish Times

“If The Book Thief was a novel that allowed Death to steal the show, its slightly chaotic, overlong, though brilliantly illuminated follow-up is affirmatively full of life.” — TheGuardian

Bridge of Clay is a tender book, set in a world that is anything but. Its enormous ambitions are sustained by heartfelt beliefs, not least in the power of love. This vast novel is a feast of language and irony. There is sly wit on every page. ” —  Sydney Morning Herald

“Beautifully written and thought-provoking, Bridge of Clay will tug at your heartstrings; and at the essential core of the novel is the delightfully uplifting message that life tends to find a way to make things right in the end.” — New York Journal of Books

This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2018 and the 2018 New Release Challenge.