Monday, February 11, 2019

Bridge of Clay

Bridge of Clay, Marcus Zusak

What a wonderful, evocative tale of family this is.

This is the story of the Dunbar boys, “once in the tide of Dunbar past”, the five sons of Michael and Penelope Dunbar. The narrator Matthew is the eldest, with Rory, Henry, Clay and Tommy following close behind.

The story covers multiple time frames, the earliest being the childhoods and early years of Michael in a small country town, and Penelope growing up in the eastern bloc and fleeing as a refugee to Australia at 18. At present day, Matthew is about 31, married with children and writing the story, while living in the family home at Archer St in Sydney. But the bulk of the tale happens around the years that Penelope falls ill in his teen years and then the aftermath of her death when their father leaves and Matthew is about 20.

It’s beautifully written, with snippets of details revealed at certain points, only to be expanded on later. Why do their pets have such expansive names such as Agamemnon and Achilles? Why do they call their father The Murderer. Why does Clay always carry a peg around in his pocket? Why does he run constantly and all the others wait to beat him up? Why is there is a typewriter buried in a backyard?

Zusak has written a compelling story that meanders and centres around Clay and how he impacts his brothers and father. There are occurrences of major loss and grief, stories of joy and hope, and the grimy reality of a family of five boys, all interwoven together in a compelling mix.

I love his style of writing. He packs a lot of meaning into a few short words:
(Speaking about final Yr 12 results for country kids):
“At the end of school, both he and Abby made good scores, they made city scores, and they were numbers of escape and wonder.” 
“How could he know that Carey - this girl who lay across him, and whose breath drew in and out on him, who’d had a life, who was a life - would make up his trifecta, or triumvirate, of love and loss?”
It sat with me for days afterwards, in a similar way to one of his other novels The Book Thief. Very few books make me teary but this one did, not only because of the content, but the way it was expressed. Highly recommended when you want a more thoughtful read, especially one that explores family in depth and from an Australian context.

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