All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo

on February 25, 2019

The Bridge
Enza Gandolfo
Scribe Publications
2018, 384p
Read from my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Did the dead exist? Were they watching? Were they ghosts? Not the kind he’d imagined as a child, draped with white sheets, with the ability to walk through walls, but the kind that lodged themselves in your heart, in your memories, the kind that came to you in dreams, that you could see when you closed your eyes and sometimes even when your eyes were opened.

In 1970s Melbourne, 22-year-old Italian migrant Antonello is newly married and working as a rigger on the West Gate Bridge, a gleaming monument to a modern city. When the bridge collapses one October morning, killing 35 of his workmates, his world crashes down on him.

In 2009, Jo and her best friend, Ashleigh, are on the verge of finishing high school and flush with the possibilities for their future. But one terrible mistake sets Jo’s life on a radically different course.

Drawing on true events of Australia’s worst industrial accident — a tragedy that still scars the city — The Bridge is a profoundly moving novel that examines class, guilt, and moral culpability. Yet it shows that even the most harrowing of situations can give way to forgiveness and redemption. Ultimately, it is a testament to survival and the resilience of the human spirit.

My quest to read as much of the Stella Prize Longlist as I can rolls on with this one, The Bridge, based around the real life construction of the West Gate Bridge. I live on the western side of Melbourne, so the bridge is a big part of our weekly life. It’s a dominant part of the landscape of this part of the city and many suburbs sit in its shadow. I’m not from Melbourne and it was constructed before I was born so I only know vague details about the collapse of part of the bridge during construction that killed 35 workers and injured and traumatised many others.

We begin with Antonello, a young Italian migrant who works on the bridge, high up in the air. He’s supposed to be working the morning the bridge collapses but he has swapped shifts with another worker in order to attend a bank appointment and is only just arriving for work when disaster strikes. Although he wasn’t directly involved in the collapse, it affects Antonello in huge ways – survivors guilt, what would now be termed post traumatic stress disorder, he has it all. He lost his boss and one of his closest friends in the collapse and it’s something that affects him for the rest of his life. He’s not able to go back to work on the bridge when it resumes, he can barely function. It affects his friendships, his marriage, even his relationship with his children (who aren’t even born when the bridge collapses). The grief never leaves him and even though he never leaves the suburbs under the bridge, he never travels over it and remains firmly convinced that it’ll collapse again, this time due to the sheer weight of the traffic it now carries each and every day.

In 2009, Antonella’s granddaughter Ashleigh and her best friend Jo are finishing year 12 and navigating that tough space between school and adulthood. They’ve been friends for years but lately Jo has been feeling the distance with Ashleigh and she’s desperate not to be left behind. One night out at a friend’s party and coming home disaster strikes – right under the bridge. For Antonello, the bridge takes from him again. Ashleigh’s family are left devastated and Jo’s mother finds herself struggling with her feelings and reactions as well.

I found the 2009 portion of the story really interesting. Jo is 19, she’s slightly older than most other girls in her year due to a delayed start at school, so she’s the only one of her friends with their license. She’s been raised by a single mother in Yarraville and lately, they’ve had that tough teenage daughter/mother relationship where it seems like they’re constantly at each other’s throats. Jo’s mother remembers when they were close but it seems like those days are forever ago now. When Jo’s life chances forever, it puts an immense strain on their already fragile relationship. There was a brutal honesty to this – I feel like often Jo’s mother really did not hold back about her feelings and I found them to be quite reasonable, her struggle was something that felt genuine, like this is how someone should feel when someone they love has made a horrible, preventable mistake that ended in tragedy. She also examines her own role in it, her complacency and how her ‘giving up’ fighting with Jo or bringing up things that lead to arguments may have led to what happened, simply because she’s tired, she’s exhausted of everything being a battle.

Jo was a frustrating character. I’m honestly not sure how much of her reaction was just an extreme shock….and a denial? But I found a lot of her attitude really off putting and her inability to accept her role and try and shift focus to everyone, to them all as a whole, juvenile and irresponsible and honestly? Pathetic. She commits an offence that everyone knows is an offence. There are no shades of grey, it’s all black and white. No middle ground. There are no excuses for it. At all. She gets careless, blasé about things and she ends up paying almost the ultimate price. I’d say there’s one person that pays for it more than her though, unfortunately. However, it’s not something she does on purpose, with the intent of harm. And she has to live with the consequences for the rest of her life. But that’s not enough…..there will also be a court case.

If you want cheering up, this is not the book for you. This is disaster, people dying in horrific ways and people messing up their lives and others, in numerous ways basically the whole way through. I found it a very draining read, even though I think it was incredibly well written and told a very good story that I became very involved in. But when I finished it, I had to admit, I was feeling quite…..down, I suppose. So many people in the book suffer in a lot of ways, there’s a huge amount of grief and loss and pain. But I loved the story it was telling and I think it’s probably a testament to how well it was done, in how it made me feel. I really enjoyed the portrayal of Yarraville and Footscray and the like, suburbs I know well and have spent quite a bit of time in. It’s good to see the west highlighted, from the working class of the 70s to the cafe culture and changing dynamics and vibes of 2009.

8/10

Book #34 of 2019

The Bridge is book #16 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019 and also my 5th book read from the Stella Prize Longlist.

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7 responses to “Review: The Bridge by Enza Gandolfo

  1. Brona says:

    I’ve just finished The Death of Noah Glass – another sad story – but quite consoling by the end. I still have Little Gods and Man Out of Time on my tbr pile…which one next?

  2. My dad was working on the bridge when it collapsed. I really need to read this.

    • Oh my gosh, really?! That’s incredible. I do feel as though it transitioned a bit quickly to the 2009 story but there’s quite a bit about the actual collapse itself. Just not as much of the after effects as I was expecting.

      • He wasn’t seriously injured but at one point during the collapse, when helping with the disaster, he did injure his shoulder and back. He has had pain, not too bad but enough to feel it often, ever since. He was a labourer.

  3. I’ve just read and reviewed it myself Bree.

    I find people’s different reactions to Jo fascinating. I think it’s too easy to rush to judgement about someone based on their first reactions. Remember (or, maybe you don’t) how the public criticised Lindy Chamberlain because she didn’t cry in front of them, she didn’t behave how a grieving mother is supposed to behave. Jo’s actions were criminal – and she knows she can’t blame others. And yet, and yet, we are ALL responsible for our actions. Those girls knew she was drunk, they also presumably knew she wasn’t allowed to have 3 others in the car. Not an excuse. And, her mother should have tried to stop the “pre-loading” and tried to stop her driving, but didn’t. Again, not an excuse. The driver is ALWAYS the responsible one, but the thing is Gandolfo makes us think about the complexity of humans and the decisions we make. I really felt for Jo – she lost her best friend, and knows she did it. What worse thing can you live with in your life?

    • Haha I actually don’t remember Lindy Chamberlain because I think Azaria and I would be of a similar age, had her tragic death not occurred. However, I have read a lot on the way she was treated and I remember the way Rosie Batty faced a similar criticism after the death of her son and the fact that she went into campaigning very hard without apparently taking the proper time (what even is that?) to grieve. And I don’t disagree with you, I know I’m standing here saying that without being in her shoes. And I am guilty of doing many dumb things when I was younger. I think I just find drink driving such a black and white issue though, they were so blasé about it. And the mum really didn’t do anywhere near enough to try and make sure they didn’t drive after drinking, and I think the book did a good job of explaining why. And I know she was legally an adult but……it was something that really emotionally stirred me, which is good, I think. Good books do make you feel even if it’s frustration and rage at a character for their thoughtless stupidity, which she does have to pay for, for the rest of her life. You are absolutely right, the other girls did the wrong thing too. They got into a car knowing the driver had been drinking (and were seemingly fine with it, didn’t seem like the first time) and that there were too many of them in there. But that’s it, isn’t it, some of the biggest tragedies stem from something people find relatively innocuous. And it’s on the driver to face the legal repercussions.

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