Culture Street

Books

Clay by Melissa Harrison

On February 4, 2013

By Sophia Whitfield

An eight-year-old boy, lost and lonely, finds solace in the outside environment where he can be free from the constraints of his life. Barely missed by his mother and absent father TC rarely attends school, but instead tracks fox prints in the snow.

Sophia, a seventy-eight year old grandmother, watches TC from her widow. As she writes to her granddaughter Daisy, just one year older than TC, she reflects on the difference in their upbringing. They live within a mile of each other yet Daisy, an only child, attends a private school, has two loving parents and is never allowed out on her own. Her days are consumed with strict activities leaving little time left for exploring the outside world. Through Sophia, TC and Daisy begin to form a bond. Sophia is keen for Daisy to break away from her sheltered upbringing.

Jozef works clearing rubbish from the parks and at the local takeaway. He is drawn to the parks which serve as a constant reminder of his home back in Poland. It is here he meets TC and finds a kindred spirit. Both lonely and in need of company they begin spending time together. Jozef often takes him to the local takeaway shop where together they share fish and chips. Soon Jozef begins to convince TC to spend more time at school.

The four characters all live within one mile of each other. All of them from different backgrounds, but linked through their struggle with loneliness. Sophia is still coming to terms with the death of her husband, TC with a mother who cares little for him and an absent father, Daisy with the isolation that comes with being an only child and Jozef, far away from his homeland.

The characters almost take second place to the environment. The lyrical nature of Harrison’s words describes the beauty of a natural environment largely lost on children today. As a photographer Harrison obviously has a keen eye for detail which is evident in her writing; her sense of place is extraordinary.

“The little wedge-shaped city park was as beautiful and as unremarkable as a thousand others across the country, and despite the changing seasons many of the people who lived near it barely even knew it was there – although that was certainly not true of all.”

Clay is an unusual book, one that stands out from the crowd for its poetic nature writing. Despite the overwhelming feeling that the book is ultimately an environmental piece, Harrison still manages to capture the drama of four lost characters, bringing them together through the outside world.

It is a novel that will stay with you long after it has been read for its beauty and resonance. Clay is Harrison’s first book. She is a prodigious talent and we look forward to seeing many more books with Melissa Harrison’s name on the front cover.

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