After losing their mother, the five Dunbar boys are living a semi-feral life and they’re fine with that. They’ve got their menagerie of pets (mostly named after characters in Greek myth) and some weird routines and overwhelming memories of their mother, Penny. She who loved the ancient Greeks and her piano and told them stories of where she came from. Into all this walks the Murderer – otherwise known as their father, who walked out on them some time before. And it is Clay, the quiet one, the one who has been training for some unknown thing, who surprises them all with his response.
“Here is a story told inside out and back to front.” Heed these words. They’re not kidding.
This is another one I have been unable to finish, and it pains me to say so. Like many, I thoroughly enjoyed The Book Thief, and also others of Zusak, but for me this was nigh on unreadable. It’s not just the plot – which there seems to be little of – or the characters – who are so unformed they’re almost interchangeable – but the actual language itself. I’m not sure how he’s done it or why he’s done it but for a book being marketed as for teens it is such hard work to follow what is going on. It bounces about in time yes, and I can deal with that usually, but even the way sentences are constructed, I’d have to go over them several times to follow. And my brain didn’t want to do that hard work. It’s almost like reading in a language you’re not familiar with. I can recognise the words but they’re not put together right. The language is over stuffed and heavy handed, never just saying what it means.
He keeps back info maybe to add suspense or more layers of nuance but it just makes it confusing. Just tell the story. Enough with the narrative back flips. It really feels a bit too pleased with itself, a bit too clever, and it doesn’t pay off. The parts with the mother are much better, as they’re told in a more straightforward manner and not weighed down with potential significance. I was tempted to skip the rest and read her chapters but in the end it didn’t seem worth it.
Overall it has a John Irving feel (quirky family drama with lots of subtext and foreshadowing) but not as accomplished or heavy hitting (or at least Irving’s older stuff, I’ve been less enthused by his recent works, insufferable as that makes me sound). But it’s even down to his overuse of the colon. Irving’s love of the semi colon is quite something. Again, it didn’t work here for me.
Also, the title itself really wound me up. It’s both literal – there’s a bridge of clay – and figurative – Clay is the bridge. But it’s so on the nose.
So, yes, incredibly disappointed.