Bridge Of Clay – Markus Zusak (2018)

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It’s been a long wait.  13 years since the publication of one of my all-time favourite novels “The Book Thief” Australian author Markus Zusak is back.  For a writer of an acknowledged modern classic this book snuck out last year and has recently appeared in paperback.  This relative lack of fanfare and the time between the two novels made me a little anxious but when I saw a copy on the library shelves I knew I just had to rejig my reading schedule to fit it in.

 This is actually Zusak’s 6th novel, those before his major breakthrough being aimed at the young adult market, one of which “I Am The Messenger” (2002) has been sitting on my shelves unread for some time but I have not dared to read it in case my admiration for this author is any way diminished.  In fact both “The Book Thief” and this latest novel could be seen as being appropriate for young adults but both demand a wider audience.

 There are elements of the predecessor in “Bridge Of Clay”, especially in the narrative style.  Here, Matthew Dunbar slowly weaves the tale of his family, jumping backwards and forwards in time, half-revealing events that are explored fully later in much the same way as Death does when he narrates “The Book Thief”.  Here, however, the stakes are not so high, the plot is a family tale without the huge issues that makes “The Book Thief” such an important read.  Books are once again important, a well-thumbed biography of Michelangelo spans the generations and there’s a lot of running which reminded me of Rudy and his Jesse Owens obsession.

 Matthew narrates the story of his parents and his four brothers but especially Clay, a gifted runner who is attracted to his neighbour Carey, an apprentice jockey, and who is torn by the loss of both of his parents and determined to build bridges in every sense when a face from the past shows up.  To start with it does feel all over the place, as did “The Book Thief” (I always advise the many people I have recommended the book to stick with it until they are used to the narrative conceit) as initially some of the events are hard to follow but it all makes sense as we are drip-fed the story of the Dunbars.

 Its chatty, scattered narrative actually masks the emotional depth of the content.  It was only looking back as I neared the end that I realised how much I knew about the characters’ lives and how involved I had become, a testament to a great novel.  Like “The Book Thief” which improves with each re-read I think the events that washed over me on first reading will have a much deeper significance on a revisit.  This is one of those books that when you finish you will be tempted to start all over again.  I’ve got to hand my library copy back but I will be purchasing this so I can read it again.  True, thematically, it is all on a much smaller scale than “The Book Thief” and lacks the power and perhaps some of the lasting resonance of that work but it is high-quality fiction which did everything to me that a very good book should.  After over a decade of waiting my expectations were shaky but really I couldn’t have asked for more from this book.

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 Bridge Of Clay was published by Doubleday in 2018.  I read the 2019 Black Swan paperback edition.

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My Top Re-Reads of 2015

I re-read 8 books in 2015.  My Top three I have read at least three times- they are books I keep coming back to, so deserve a mention in my round-up of the year.  Just click on the titles to be taken to the full reviews.

3. Krindlekrax – Philip Ridley (Red Fox 1991) (Read in September. Reviewed in October)krindlekrax2  One of my all time favourite children’s book and superb to read aloud.

2. The Crimson Petal And The White – Michel Faber  (Canongate 2002)(Read in March.  Reviewed in September)

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Set in Victorian times this book is a monumental achievement. Unflinching and often explicit with excellent characterisation.

  1. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak  (Black Swan 2007) (Read in January.  Reviewed in April)

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The more I read this book the more I love it.  Just don’t make me watch the film!

World Book Night Special – 100 Essentials – The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2007)

 

It’s World Book Night with thousands of free books being given out (form an orderly queue please!)  I confess I missed the deadline to volunteer to be a book giver but I have just discovered the organisers suggestion that we buy our favourite book to give to someone else.  That got me thinking (and unfortunately that’s all it would be for today as I am not near any bookshops) – favourite book – “The Book Thief” to be given to my friend Val who volunteers with me at the local library and has seen the film but not read the book.  So here for World Book Night is a special 100 Essential Book Review.images
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My Hopes For The Book Thief

1. That Everyone Reads This Book

2. That I don’t end up ever watching the film

Please excuse the bold type above. It’s a little device which is used so effectively by Markus Zusak in his 2007 publication “The Book Thief.” This original, thrilling novel is one of my all-time favourites and with each re-read I am blown away as to how superb it actually is. Excellent use of descriptive writing makes reading this a multisensory experience. Zusak’s narrator is none other than Death himself whose function is to gather up the souls of the departed. Kept very busy by World War II, he finds time to pick up an abandoned book written by a young girl he has had his eye on for some time. This is the writings of Liesl, the Book Thief. Death, as one would imagine is not a perfect narrator. He playfully toys with us, gives hints, makes lists and asides and reveals events before he should, but there is no doubt that he is captivated by Liesl and the residents of Himmel Street in the German town of Molching. He is not the only one. There are few characters in fiction I care for more than Liesl, her neighbourhood friend Rudy, and her foster parents, the accordion playing Hans Huberman and his wardrobe-shaped, potty-mouthed wife, Rosa.

Death narrates a tale which is full of memorable incidents which come to define the characters; Rudy’s obsession with Olympic athlete Jesse Owens which is taken a little too far; Hans’ acts of recklessly selfless kindness and for Liesl; the theft of books. Anyone who has a love for books should read this novel as it is undoubtedly the best book about books. Liesl’s first theft occurs in tragic circumstances in an icy cold cemetery, a useless acquisition for the illiterate nine year old but that inappropriate volume becomes her lifeline and when she learns to read from it her need for futher reading matter grows. There are a number of books within this book.   Zusak gives us the chance to experience a wealth of other titles, some stolen by Liesl and some produced for her by other characters. There is no greater testament to the power reading and words can have on our lives and for that alone Zusak should be celebrated. On a previous re-read I noted in my Book Journal that I hoped they would never make a film of it. It could only dilute the power of the book. At the start of last year the film I didn’t want to see made opened to a muted response and mixed reviews. I do not want to see it. I don’t like that there will be people out there who will say, “I’ve seen the film, I don’t need to read it.” You do. If you loved the film I’m sure the experience of the book will be even better, if you didn’t like the film just try and wipe it from your mind and give the book a chance. Hopefully it will find a permanent place on your shelves.

A SHORT LIST OF OTHER FILMS I AM UNABLE TO WATCH BECAUSE I LOVE THE BOOK TOO MUCH

  • The Time Traveller’s Wife
  • The Golden Compass (Northern Lights)
  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  • The Grapes Of Wrath (even though I know the John Ford 1940 version is an acclaimed masterpiece)
  • The Narnia books

 

“The Book Thief” is a beautifully told story, which will make you laugh, cry and fall in love with the characters. It offers the perfect reading experience.

Let me know what other books you would add to my short list of “love the book don’t want to see the film”……..  Do you agree with my suggestions?

This review appears in a slightly edited form in the current edition of  newbooks magazine (nb84) as my contender for the Best Books of The 21st Century.