The Bridge is a critique of a world in which limitless faith in science and instrumental reason has impoverished human life by denying all truths that cannot be accounted for in the narrow terms of science and rationality. The novel weaves together several apparently distinct narratives whose protagonists may be seen as dream-projections of a single character, who is never directly named.
At the beginning of the novel, this unnamed man lies in the wreckage of a car crash, crushed but still alive. As he loses consciousness, he slips into a bizarre dream. The narrative abruptly switches to a bizarre, dystopian society built entirely upon a seemingly endless bridge. Here, another man, John Orr, is recounting this very dream to his psychotherapist.
A victim of amnesia, Orr does not know who he is or where he comes from. When he is not in therapy, he tries to find out more about the bridge that he must now call home. His attempts, however, are continually frustrated. The bridge’s social and bureaucratic organization is as labyrinthine as its physical construction and its technological infrastructure, all of which frequently break down. Taking advantage of the chaos surrounding one such breakdown, he stows away on a train and begins a nightmare odyssey through a landscape ravaged by war and war’s atrocities.
Three other narratives weave in and out of Orr’s experiences on and off the bridge. In the first, the victim of the crash that began the novel is rushed to the hospital and placed in intensive care. In the second, a bloodthirsty Scots swordsman swashbuckles his way through magic worlds of sorcerers and enchantresses. The third—and central—narrative follows the career of a young Scots engineer, whose youthful, idealistic self is progressively being smothered by his growing affluence, and who seems about to lose Andrea, the woman whom he has loved since his student days. The engineer’s prosperous but increasingly unsatisfying life almost ends when he drunkenly crashes his luxury sports car on the Forth Bridge leading into Edinburgh. It is in the hospital room in which he emerges from his coma that all the separate story lines converge. The adventures of John Orr on the bridge and of the swordsman among sorcerers fall into place as the dreamwork in which the engineer confronts the values by which he has lived and recovers his true identity.