Originally published in French in 2010, this novel follows the conception and building of a bridge in the timeless, almost mythical Coca, California.
It’s fitting that the epigraph comes from Jorge Luis Borges, for the world de Kerangal creates has a surreal Borges-ean feel to it. The central character is the bridge itself, though it’s surrounded by humans of various shapes and statures. The project manager is Georges Diderot, outsized in body and in reputation, who has the almost unimaginably complex job of coordinating the job with the personalities of the workers. Central among these is Summer Diamantis, aka “Miss Concrete,” who’s in charge of this central aspect of the civil engineering. She’s used to being a pioneer in her field and has ventured into the solid world of shaping concrete in part to escape her past. We also meet Sanche Alphonse Cameron, the chief crane operator, whose base of operations is a 6-foot-square box 150 feet above the ground. (Although this is a tight space, before the novel ends, he succeeds in having a sexual tryst there.) John Johnson, also known as The Boa, is Coca’s ambitious mayor, who has decided that the old Golden Bridge will just no longer suffice, for he needs to make a name for himself. De Kerangal delights in naming her characters playfully and philosophically, so we also meet worker Kate Thoreau, architect Ralph Waldo and minor character Verlaine. Despite obstacles like a fatal accident and the threat of a work stoppage, the bridge does eventually get built.
The whole narrative unfolds in a dreamlike manner, and Moore’s translation is elegant and sensitively attuned to the author’s wordplay and neologisms.