Top critical review
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Interesting, but not interesting enough
on 14 July 2004
'The Bridge...' focuses on a disaster in 18th century Peru, in which a bridge over a ravine collapses sending five people to their deaths. The tragedy prompts a priest, Brother Juniper, who had himself narrowly avoided being caught up in the disaster, to question why those five had been chosen to die and others, including himself, survived. He sees it as a natural experiment for testing God's plans, and, ultimately, a key to understanding the way in which He works. The book is a synopsis of the priest's investigation into the lives of the five victims and, ultimately, where the priest's own questions lead him.
The investigations into the five lives are nicely retold here, each one offering suggestions about why that particular victim may have been chosen, but each differing from the previous. Wilder's prose is thoughtfully constructed and his characters well realised, although each is a little caricatured in order to make his point (as is perhaps necessary in a book this length). The Marquesa with her wounded maternal feelings, Pepita, with her self-loathing, Estaban with his obsessive brotherly love, Pio with his excesses and Don Jaime with his innocence all seem to hint at a solution to God's plan, but ultimately serve to confuse and disorientate. The fate of Juniper himself is probably the only true clue the priest possesses.
So why only three stars? I don't know if it was the subject matter, the shortness of the book or Wilder's style, but the reading of this left absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. I did enjoy it, but it failed to move me and fails to haunt me, as the blurb promised. Perhaps this says more about me and my expectations of a book covering this subject, but I didn't find Juniper's conclusions and fate particularly surprising or thought provoking. Perhaps the shortness of the book meant I by-passed the point, but this isn't a work that I will be revisiting anytime soon.