In Short Books

‘Bridge of Clay’: A story of suvival wrapped in poetic metaphors

A symbiosis between life’s brutish and sentimental sides

This is a weird book. Especially if you aren’t into Seinfeld, where the meticulous ‘Nothing’ that binds a host of characters is at least garnished with a laughter track. A 600-page-long epic drama, Markus Zusak’s 13-years-in-the-works novel Bridge of Clay gives itself a lot of space to play itself out in, wrapped up all over in metaphors of love, loss, and stoicism.

While the dust jacket will tell you it’s about five hardy young-adult Australian brothers hardened by a shared life of survivalist independence and unsupervised self-sufficiency, you should know that this is all dust-jackets are allowed to reveal. Engaging with the Dunbars’ story, though, is bound to unravel life-truths seldom written of with such perspicacity.

Enigmatic Clay Dunbar’s Everest is to build a bridge to and for the father who abandoned his children. Good thing he trains so hard.

The reality can seem frustratingly coy for an entire first half. Matthew, the eldest Dunbar sibling and narrator, knows that this is his book and will tell it at his own pace, with a writing style that’s cryptic and self-indulgent, often erring on the side of wanton parataxis — his prose reeks of poetry for a long while, until you realise that’s just how the author speaks about love and loss.

As it progresses, the emotionally-surcharged tale wants to bring out the symbiosis between life’s brutish and sentimental sides. Within the drowsy earthiness of its Australian Outback setting and the de facto effervescence of its contents lie several displays of courage beyond one’s means; when the narrator uses a disinterred typewriter to tell his tale and the exhumation comprises the cold opener, you know this is going to be a horribly layered story.

When you’re asked to review a work of art, you’re obliged to evaluate it on parameters it isn’t obliged to fulfil. This book, for however long you can persevere with it, lets you experience the cliché about life being art and art being life. And all the stuff in between probably will never matter.

Bridge of Clay; Markus Zusak, Doubleday, ₹599

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 2:10:39 AM |

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