The backstory: Invisible Bridge was one of Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best Novels of 2010, a New York Times Notable Book in 2010, and Julie Orringer is coming to Albany Thursday night as part of the New York State Writer's Institute Visiting Writers Series. (Update: The Invisible Bridge has been longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize!)
The basics: The novel opens with Andreas Levi, a young Jewish student in Hungary, as he is preparing to move to Paris, where he has an architecture scholarship but knows no one and very little French. He's asked to deliver a package and a mysterious letter by a wealthy family after a chance meeting.
My thoughts: I hesitate to describe Invisible Bridge as a love story because that oversimplifies what is an accomplished massive, sweeping novel. Yes, romance is a major element of this novel, but no more so than it is in life. I was instantly fascinated with Andras and his fascinating journey from Hungary to Paris. The reader can see hints of the future and the inevitable war the characters are (realistically) slow to acknowledge. Orringer manages to make the hope of her characters inspiring rather than foolish, a balance difficult to achieve in historical fiction when the reader knows the future when the characters don't. Still, Orringer maintains suspense because the reader knows the big picture of the time but not where these characters fit into it.
I was enjoying the narrative and early journey of Andras so much, in fact, that I wasn't on board with the initial inklings of romance. It was clear romance was on the horizon for Andras, but I was surprised at the direction it took. Despite my initial misgivings about whom Andras falls for, I loved following the paths the characters took.
I don't consider it a spoiler to note that World War II breaks out, but I won't reveal details about the timing of the war in the characters' lives. In war, the romances take supporting roles and war shines: "Strange, Andras thought, that war could lead you involuntarily to forgive a person who didn't deserve forgiveness, just as it might make you kill a man didn't hate." The novel remains the story of Andras, and he is an incredibly memorable character whose nature will stick with me.
In some ways, The Invisible Bridge is an epic novel. It's large in scope, geography and theme. While time passes, it isn't an epic tale of generations. Orringer tells the story with restraint and refrains from overindulgence, but the story never grows dull. Time moves at a nice pace throughout the novel; there are not unnecessarily detailed sections.
Favorite passage: "Everything was new to her. Or not entirely new, because she'd read about it all in books--it was all coming true for her, a world she'd imagined but had never seen."
The verdict: The Invisible Bridge is an achievement worthy of one of Orringer's most beautiful lines: "an alphabet of loss, a catalogue of grief." It deals with a thoroughly depressing subject in a thoughtful, character-driven way free of sensationalism. It's a novel I thoroughly enjoyed reading, but when the last page was turned and I could look at the novel as a whole, I realized how beautiful and impressive it truly is. The Invisible BridgeI is an engaging read whose brilliance is fully realized at its conclusion.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Length: 784 pages (paperback)
Publication date: May 4, 2010 (it's in paperback now)
Source: I bought it for my Kindle
Sunday, I'll recap the New York State Writer's Institute event with Julie Orringer and Karen Russell.
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