“Bridge of Clay,” he explained, was difficult to write for several reasons. It is a bigger novel than “The Book Thief,” it includes many more characters, and it uses a completely different sort of narrative voice, he said.
It wasn’t until Mr. Zusak’s wife intervened in June 2016 that the writing process began to improve markedly. “She basically said to me ‘I think you and Clay need a break. If you can’t get this together in the next week, get it back on track, you’ve got to quit the book.’” He took a monthlong holiday and when he returned to the book the writing began to flow. “It suddenly started to come to life and I started to have a lot more fun with it. And I became quite joyful again in the challenges I was meeting,” he said.
Credit Michael Lionstar
The difficulties of artistic creation are central to “Bridge of Clay.” Clay and his father are inspired by the work of the Italian sculptor and painter Michelangelo, but they identify less with him than with the unfinished sculptures known as “The Slaves,” and certainly not his masterpiece, “David.”
“When Clay and his dad are building the bridge they say, ‘it would be great to create something like the ‘David’ one day but we live the life of the slaves.’ And far from being negative, I actually think that’s the real beauty. And I think that’s the way we live. We want to create these beautiful things and we want to do beautiful things but we’re forever trapped in the marble and in the making of it.”
While he expressed excitement for the novel’s publication, Mr. Zusak made it clear he’s still challenged by “Bridge of Clay.” “I could write this book until I die and it still won’t be the way I want it. But I think now it’s got the right heart and I think once you’ve got that then you’ve got an obligation to yourself to see it through and you hope people will find that in it.”