Review: Bridge of Clay - Markus Zusak
Published: Doubleday, October 2018
My Rating: 5/5 stars Added to All-time Favourite List
"She turned the knob to a shadowed dimness and sat on the stool at the piano. Slowly, her hands drifted, and genly, she pressed the high-pitched notes. She hit them soft but true and right, where she'd used the paint left over. She's played the keys of Y|E|S|."
I am a bit particular when it comes to the books that make it onto my all-time favourite list... Call it what you want (fear of commitment, being critical, or just being annoyingly picky), it takes a lot out of me to declare a book a new favourite. Often times, a book sits with me for months, working its way into my heart, and then there is the rare case of love at first sight. Such a case was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and now I can add another one of his titles to that list. I fell, and I fell hard, and before I knew it I had played those keys of |Y|E|S|, even before I’d reached the final page. |Y|E|S|, this book is going to (personally) hit me hard. |Y|E|S|, I’m ready for it. |Y|E|S|, permission to enter my heart.
Of Hero’s and Murderers Bridge of Clay is a hard book to summarize. It’s the story of the fourth Dunbar boy, about a house filled with Greek hero’s, piano music and playfights, a murderer and a mule. About running as fast as you can (but never fast enough), about the gaping hole of loss, and eventually building a bridge across it. But above all else, it’s a generational story about a family. As with both I Am the Messenger and The Book Thief, the description on the backflap does not give an in depth idea of what these books are about, and in my opinion this is for the better. I go into them fairly blind and trust Markus Zusak to work his magic on me, and he does time and time again.
The Old TW If you’re familiar with Markus Zusak’s writing style, you will instantly know what I mean when I say that it’s both unique, and probably hit or miss for most people. It’s magical, yet down to earth, filled with metaphors like you’ve never heard, but still make perfect sense once you read them. Despite being so skilful, his writing seems effortless, resulting in a pleasant reading experience. I’ve seen many reviewers mention how they had to work hard to get through the book, yet I had the opposite experience, thanks to the writing. Although Bridge of Clay is little like Zusaks earlier books, they are connected through the authors signature style. If, like me, that was what you liked most in The Book Thief, you cannot pass this up!
A Gradual Kill Not only is Markus Zusak an artist with his words, he is also highly skilled when it comes to delivering emotional pay-off. These are no emotional bombs he drops on you out of the blue. These are precision strikes, timed blows, a gradual killing… Throughout the story, we meet different generations of Dunbar boys, starting with father Michael as a teenager, all the way to his fourth son Clay at the same age. Over the span of years, we grow to know them, almost as friends. We learn their backstory, their personality, and what leads them towards everything that happens in the end. I ended up loving every single one of these characters: Matthew: the protector, Rory: the fighter, Henry: the charmer, Clay: the runner and, Tommy: the boy with his legion of animals. I even fell in love with the murderer, with Penny, and everything they go through. It’s this gradual build up that leads to the emotional pay-off as they proceed towards the tragedy you know is coming. That terrible feeling where you know something awful is bound to happen, and there is nothing you can do, so you just don’t want to deny it for a little bit longer... It’s the feeling the characters feel, and thanks to Zusaks brilliant set up, you feel it with them.
The Bridge The best thing about Bridge of Clay isn’t however, how it makes the reader feel: it’s how Zusak translates to the page how the Dunbar boys feel. The story deals heavily with themes of grief, both before ánd after a loss, and hits the nail on the head with two aspects that are often under- or mis-represented in literature: male-grief and in particular teenage boy-grief. Although everybody of course is different, whether it be due to innate differences or societal expectations, most boys tend to grieve differently from girls, especially around their teenage years. Outwardly, there is more doing, less talking and more unspoken feelings, that can lead to distance. Bridging that distance between people, between “before” and “after”, memories and what is to come. That is one of the hardest parts of grief, and it’s something Bridge of Clay captures beautifully.
Due to its themes and content, this book may not resonate with everybody. That being said; I think you’d be doing yourself a great disservice by not at least giving it a try, whether you liked The Book Thief or not. As for me: a final note from the author: am haunted by Markus Zusak…
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