The Bridge Of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder


I first read this book at University during my undergraduate degree. It was a recommendation by a lecturer of mine, Dr Ian Bickerton. Bick recommended this book as well as Waterland and Calvino‘s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller. I think I must have been about to embark on thesis writing adventures and these books were Bick’s way of educating me about the power of a narrative. At the time I absolutely relished each of these texts. My copies are littered with various notes to myself and little pointers about intriguing linguistic turns and twists. That said, it’s been 15 years since I read Wilder’s book and when unpacking my library I put it aside for revisiting.

Having reread it now, I am struggling to appreciate what originally captivated me in this text. There are elements of it which are clearly brilliant. Wilder is a master when it comes to crafting stories and placing elements side by side for reflection and juxtaposition which readers only appreciate in hindsight. Part of what Bick was referring to can be seen in Wilder’s self-reflexivity: “And I, who claim to know so much more, isn’t it possible that even I have missed the very spring within the spring?” It is comments such as this which cause readers to question who is actually narrating this text, whether it is the author’s own interjection or whether this is the voice of the protagonist. The constant blurring of the boundaries between character and author are what make this text so interesting.

However, I think that I was disappointed with this re-read. Somehow, the book didn’t hold the glory that I seem to remember and although I did really enjoy it, I had this imagining of it as a mammoth text of mountain-moving quality. Perhaps this is part of the risk of rereading great books?

Suffice to say, if you haven’t read Wilder’s book, please do and enjoy it for the great book that it is … if you have already read it, perhaps it is best to let it lie?



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