No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, April 25, 2010

2010/31: The Bridge -- Zoran Živković

It would be years before her son was born. She wasn't married, and had yet to meet the boy's father. She knew nothing about him except what she'd just found out. Her future husband would be a redhead. Her son couldn't have inherited that fiery-coloured hair from her. (p. 65)

This short book consists of three linked tales set in a nameless city with an East European feel (the author is Serbian). I picked up The Bridge on recommendation from a friend -- having set myself the target of reading authors A through Z, I ended up at Eastercon with a book by Z___ which I wasn't in the mood to read at the time. Instead, I bought this: I'm not wholly convinced it's representative of Živkovic's work, but it has an unsettling, Borgesian dream-logic to it, and resonates with images and symbolism that are opaque yet laden with significance.

In each of the three sections, the narrator follows someone who can't be there -- a doppelganger, a dead woman, an unborn son grown to maturity -- or, perhaps, follows someone who, in the way of dreams, stands for somebody else. Each narrator (a middle-aged man, a single woman of indeterminate age, a young girl) is nervous, compelled to follow, unwilling or unable to turn to anyone for support or help. Each narrator visits an unexpected place hiding in the heart of the city; acquires a peculiar object (a raincoat with mismatched lapels, a scarf that resembles a snake, a pair of trainers); engages in or witnesses a game of chance that is also a surreal theatrical performance; sees a man with lurid red hair ... Each narrator ends up at a bridge across the river, their quarry suddenly lost.

The Afterword by Slobodan Vladusic discusses The Bridge with reference to Kafka, humanism and posthumanism, and the riddle-solving ontology of video games. 'Kafkaesque', he suggests, is 'part of the process of becoming accustomed to the irrational appearing in places where ... the rational would have had to prevail' (p.93); it also implies a level of threat to the protagonist, which is absent in The Bridge. Živkovic, says Vladusic, is more concerned with the possibility of new life, the interconnectivity of the world, than a dehumanising threat to the individual.

I confess that if The Bridge is a series of riddles, I failed to unravel them: if there was closure, explanation, resolution I missed it. The dreamlike surrealism is intriguing; the text seems well-translated; but I came away with the sense of there being something I didn't see.

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