I held this tome of a book in my hands with trepidation at first, just because it’s a long read. Now I’ve finished it, I hold it like it’s a bible of words to be revered.
I simply loved this book.
Within the first few pages we’re introduced to the narrator, Matthew Dunbar, who, the day after getting married, is digging in someone’s backyard he doesn’t know for a typewriter he’s never seen before.
If before the beginning … was a typewriter, a dog and a snake, the beginning itself – eleven years previously – was a murderer, a mule and Clay.
And from that point we are engulfed in the story of the five Dunbar boys whose mother, Penny has died and their father has fled. The oldest is Matthew and the fourth boy is Clay who builds a bridge.
The moving family saga swaps between the present, the past and the time before and while this may be confusing at first, this is a book that commands your undivided attention and almost your every waking moment. There’s a rhythm and heartbeat to the writing, much like the metronome used by the Penny when teaching kids to read. The writing is pared back and at times almost poetic. The words are there for a reason and boy, does Markus Zusak know how to put them together.
For the longest time then, ten minutes at least, he stood at the mouth of Archer street, relieved to have finally made it, terrified to be there. The street didn’t seem to care; its breeze was close but casual, its smoky scent was untouchable. Cars stubbed out rather than parked, and the powerlines drooped from the weight of mute, hot and bothered pigeons. Around it, a city climbed and called:
Welcome back, murderer.
Each boy has his place in the family but Clay is the one they all look up to and need. The bonds of brotherhood can never be broken and their survival and hurt belongs to them all.
I loved the animals; the mule, Achilles, is a star in his own right.
This grey, patchy, ginger, light brown, thatch-faced, wide-eyed, fat nostrilled casual bastard of a mule – was standing steadfast, on the cracked lino.
And who could forget fur-shedding Hector the cat, Agamemnon, the head-butting fish and Telemachus the pigeon?
We grow to love Penny, and understand her background and the power of motherhood on her tribe of boys. Her passing is truly heartbreaking.
The reader is privy to the rough and tumble of what young boys are like, beating each other up all in preparation for what lies ahead.
They reached the sixth floor and Clay dumped Tommy sideways and tackled the mouth on his right. They landed on musty tiles, Clay half smiled, the other two laughed, and they all shrugged off the sweat. In the struggle, Clay got Henry in a headlock. He picked him up and ran him round.
‘You really need a shower, mate.’ Typical Henry … To interrupt, Tommy, thoroughly thirteen, took a running jump and brought all three of them down, arms and legs, boys and floor.
And like an onion we peel off the layers and the story reveals itself bit by bit so that by the end we know everything that’s happened and why.
I enjoyed spending time with the Dunbar boys. I worried for them, shed a tear for them, laughed with them, and didn’t want to leave them when I closed the final page. They will stay with me for a very long time.
Dive in, take your time, immerse yourself and enjoy this one.