*Just a gentle note, this review may contain spoilers*
This is a big one. Literally. I think it’s just shy of 600 pages but they’re all brilliant. This is the latest book from the author who wrote The Book Thief. This has been his first in ten years(!) So, Bridge Of Clay… what’s it all about? Here’s the blurb:
IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS ONE MURDERER, ONE MULE AND ONE BOY.
BUT THIS ISN’T THE BEGINNING, IT’S BEFORE IT.
Five Dunbar brothers are living – fighting, loving, grieving – in the perfect chaos of a house without grown-ups. Today, the father who left them has just walked right back in. He has a surprising request: who will build a bridge with him?
It is Clay, a boy tormented by a long-buried secret, who accepts. But why is Clay so broken? And why must he fulfil this extraordinary challenge?
Bridge of Clay is about a boy caught in a current, a boy intent on destroying everything he has in order to become everything he needs to be. Ahead of him lies the bridge, the vision that will save both his family and himself.
It will be a miracle and nothing less. At once an existential riddle and a search for redemption, this tale of five brothers coming of age in a house without rules brims with energy, joy and pathos. Written in Markus Zusak’s distinctive style, it is a tour de force from a master storyteller of the heart.
Before I ordered this book, I saw nothing but praise for it and it definitely grabbed my interest. Of course, I know who Markus Zusak is but I don’t remember The Book Thief. Part of me is sure I’ve read it and it’s in my parent’s house but on the other hand, I can’t remember it at all! But I enjoyed reading Bridge of Clay more with that insight – I was reading it with fresh eyes and enjoying it for what it is – not the big seller before it.
If I’m being honest, it took me a while to really get into this book. I know that’s the case with most books but I felt it took a bit longer than other books I’ve read recently. I thought there were too many characters and too much going on. But, once I got into it properly, I was gripped right until the very end.
Zusak really is a beautiful writer. He really is a master of his craft. The way he establishes characters and the dynamics of the family of brothers; the way he builds sentences together that feel lyrical and mystical; the way he describes stuff – even the mundane – is bloody brilliant. It’s the sort of writing that makes you envious, that you wish you wrote this book. It’s that good. This is a big book but the chapters are so short that you race through it. It took me a while because I was reading Milkman at the same time and a lot of family stuff to deal with but at the same time, I was trying to savour every single word.
‘And Clay looked back, one last time, before diving – in, and outwards – to a bridge, through a past, to a father. He swam the gold-lit water.’
The characters in this are beautiful, too, I think. Clay, for me, is the stand-out. He is the book, I think. Clay is a perfect character for me to fall in love with. Seriously, I could write an entire essay on him. I really felt his pain and his… well, I just got him. Zusak wrote all of the characters brilliantly but I felt he really cares about Clay and he’s really fleshed him out throughout the course of the book. Matthew was another great character for me – I thought he was a great older brother but also a great narrator throughout the book. But, along with Clay, I think Penelope is my favourite character. Her story was so beautifully told by Zusak. There is pain but there is also heartbreak and it did cause me to feel very emotional – especially when reading it before bed. It’s the sort of book that you really connect with and the characters that will stay with you for a very, very long time.
I also really loved the entire design of the book, too. The cover is gorgeous, yes, but I mean the overall book. With Matthew narrating this book and typing it on a typewriter, I really believed that with the fonts and also the paper is so thin and flimsy it does feel like it’s been written on a typewriter which adds another layer to the reading experience.
There are a lot of themes at play with this book. It explores family, growing up, love, the relationship between brothers, the relationship between parent and child, it explores death, grief and everything in between. It also explores the theme of figuring out who you are, making mistakes and learning from them, it’s about perseverance overall too. It’s about building yourself up (like the bridge) and passing through your problems in life and knowing your worth.
To be honest, words can’t express my feelings towards this book. It’s writing moved me, the characters got me emotional and it’s a book I’m going to cherish forever. This book is an example of books being a great helping hand, just like The Book Thief, with it’s explorations of grief and loss, this will help a lot of people coming to terms with their own grief and there’s nothing more powerful than that. I think this is summed up in one of my favourite quotes from the book:
We were boys but also miraculous.
Brilliant, lyrical, moving, a triumph. I also got a Waterstones exclusive edition of the book which is signed and it also had stickers in the back too! I’m so glad this is signed because it’s going to be a book that I’m going to cherish forever. There are still some signed copies on Waterstones, you can order one here. Or, of course, you can just buy the standard edition as the story is still the same and just as perfect.
Have you read Bridge of Clay? What did you think? Are you a massive fan of Zusak’s writing and The Book Thief? Let me know in the comments!