GEH Wellbeing Reading Group Book Review- Bridge of Clay

As the person writing this review I have a preference to declare. Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak is my favourite of all the books we’ve read at our reading group. Which is a big statement considering we’ve been running for 4 years now. However, life would be very boring if we all thought the same, and so it is for this book. Our meeting attendees were firmly divided, with a “this is a wonderful book” group in one corner and a “meh” group in the other corner. No one actively disliked it, but it was most certainly a polarizing read.

The book tells the story of a family of the five Australian Dunbar boys, with the eldest brother, Matthew, as the narrator, but concentrating on the fourth boy, Clay. Starting before their parents met, the story takes us through their mother’s death and their abandonment by their Father. Left to raise themselves there’s a physical and symbolic bridge; animals with Greek names (Achilles the mule anyone?); 80s movies; horseracing; a girl; a teacher; and a story that’s epic in scale.

The story fluctuates between timelines and quite often tells the ending of a particular section of the story before going back to explain how it actually happened. One of our readers was particularly drawn to the story of Penelope Dunbar, the mom, and wanted to know more about her. Other readers thought it was a slow grower and got much more out of the second half of the book.

Image of a stone bridge with arches over a river, The bridge is reflected in the river surface.

For those who enjoyed the book the writing style was appreciated, for those who felt indifferent, the chop and change style was somewhat confusing. We talked about the relationship between the boys and how it reminded some of us of our own siblings and of the freedom of childhood. We enjoyed the selflessness of Penelope’s father in relinquishing his own freedom to give her a route out of her Eastern Bloc roots. We appreciated the boys’ relationship with their next door neighbour, for whom they loosened jar lids, and who patched them up after fights got bloody. We found the love in the book compelling, and the revelations surrounding a secret in the second half of the book gripping.

It’s difficult to write a review without giving away too much of the plot of this book, and our discussions ranged around the boys’ relationship with their mother and their absent father, the building of the bridge, and mainly around Clay and his major role in the story. We definitely persuaded one group member who hadn’t finished to carry on reading the book.

So, after my revelation of this being my favourite reading group book, you may ask me why? Well, at the heart of this book is love, and that’s the part that stuck with me- I felt uplifted and glad to have read it. Not everyone in our reading group would recommend the book, but I would!

Our next book is A Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter.  Written in the 1930s it’s a memoir of a woman joining her husband to live for a year in the Arctic. If you’d like to join in, please call by William Harvey Library to pick up a copy.

Find out more about our reading groups here

Take a look at the blog posts for our previous reads here.

Book cover- A woman in the polar night by Christiane Ritter

Bridge image: Tcherkasski, E. (no date) Bridge-river-reflection-water-6181079. Available at: (Accessed: 2 May 2023).