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Bridge of Clay – an excerpt

Here is a story told inside out and back to front:
The five Dunbar brothers are living – fighting, dreaming, loving – in the perfect squalor of a house without grownups. Today, the father who walked out on them long ago is about to walk right back in.
But why has he returned, and who have the boys become in the meantime?
Here is an excerpt from Markus Zusak’s new book, Bridge of Clay


IN THE BEGINNING there was one murderer, one mule and one boy, but this isn’t the beginning, it’s before it, it’s me, and I’m Matthew, and here I am, in the kitchen, in the night – the old river mouth of light – and I’m punching and punching away. The house is quiet around me.
As it is, everyone else is asleep.
I’m at the kitchen table.
It’s me and the typewriter – me and the old TW, as our longlost father said our long-lost grandmother used to say. Actually, she’d called it the ol’ TW, but such quirks have never been me. Me, I’m known for bruises and level-headedness, for height and muscle and blasphemy, and the occasional sentimentality. If you’re like most people, you’ll wonder if I’d bother stringing a sentence together, let alone know anything about the epics, or the Greeks. Sometimes it’s good to be underestimated that way, but even better when someone sees it. In my case, I was lucky:
For me there was Claudia Kirkby.
There was a boy and a son and a brother.
Yes, always for us there was a brother, and he was the one – the one of us amongst fi ve of us – who took all of it on his shoulder. As ever, he’d told me quietly, and deliberately, and of course he was on the money. There was an old typewriter buried in the old backyard of an old-backyard-of-a-town, but I’d had to get my measurements right, or I might dig up a dead dog or a snake instead (which I did, on both counts). I figured if the dog was there and the snake was there, the typewriter couldn’t be far.
It was perfect, pirateless treasure.
I’d driven out the day after my wedding day.
Out from the city.
Right through the night.
Out through the reams of empty space, and then some.
The town itself was a hard, distant storyland; you could see it from afar. There was all the straw-like landscape, and marathons of sky. Around it, a wilderness of low scrub and gum trees stood close by, and it was true, it was so damn true: the people sloped and slouched. This world had worn them down.
It was outside the bank, next to one of the many pubs, that a woman told me the way. She was the uprightest woman in town.
‘Go left there on Turnstile Street, right? Then straight for say two hundred metres, then left again.’
She was brown-haired, well-dressed, in jeans and boots, plain red shirt, an eye shut tight to the sun. The only thing betraying her was an inverse triangle of skin, there at the base of her neck; it was tired and old and criss-crossed, like the handle of a leather chest.
‘You got it then?’
‘Got it.’
‘What number you lookin’ for, anyway?’
‘Twenty-three.’
‘Oh, you’re after the old Merchisons, are you?’
‘Well, to tell you the truth, not really.’
The woman came closer and I noted the teeth of her now, how they were white-and-gleaming-but-yellow; a lot like the swaggering sun. As she approached, I held my hand out, and there was she and I and her teeth and town.
‘My name’s Matthew,’ I said, and the woman, she was Daphne.
By the time I was at the car again, she’d turned and come back, from the money machine at the bank. She’d even left her card behind, and stood there now, with a hand at centre-hip. I was halfway into the driver’s side and Daphne nodded and knew. She knew near to almost everything, like a woman reading the news.
‘Matthew Dunbar.’
She said it, she didn’t ask.
There I was, twelve hours from home, in a town I’d never set foot in in all my thirty-one years, and they’d all been somehow expecting me.


Bridge of Clay is an epic portrait of how a ramshackle family, held together by stories and by love, come to unbury one boy’s tragic secret.

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