Friday, 29 October 2010

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

"An ancient bridge collapses over a gorge in Peru, hurling five people into the abyss. It seems a meaningless human tragedy. But one witness, a Franciscan monk, believes the deaths might not be as random as they appear. Convinced that the disaster is a punishment sent from Heaven, the monk sets out to discover all he can about the travellers. The five strangers were connected in some way, he thinks. There must be a purpose behind their deaths. But are their lost lives the result of sin? ... Or of love?"
I'd never read the short classic, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, until we discussed it in the Cornflower bookgroup recently. Despite the blurb, I don't think it was really about the bridge or the monk. Rather it is more of an essay about love in all its forms, including Brother Juniper's intellectual love of God.  It seems to me to be particularly about the dangers of different kinds of obsessive love: maternal, fraternal, avuncular, dutiful love, even the love of social climbing.
As for the tragedy itself, the innocent young died along side the elderly in the random way these things happen, despite Brother Juniper’s attempts to prove a celestial plan. Apparently Thorton Wilder was inspired to write the book because of a theological argument with his strict Calvanist father, but using Brother Juniper's investigation as a framework didn't work for me. However, I enjoyed reading about Peru as a C18 Spanish colony, the posturing of the Viceroy and his snobbish court, and the six or seven main character studies, including the Abbess and the actress, and Clara.
I did like the style and the flavour too, in that one had the illusion one was reading the novel in Spanish. I usually enjoy books that transport me to a different world and this one did. Not everyone in the group felt the same, but I found it both interesting and moving.
The novel won the Pulitzer prize in 1928. A good choice for bookgroups as it's short and there's plenty to talk about.

1 comment:

Debs said...

This book sounds so interesting and I love the thought that the monk tries to find out about the people who died.