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Clay by Melissa Harrison at Abbey's Bookshop,


Melissa Harrison



Fiction & Literature;
Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)


272 pages

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ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK ----- Even though it’s early in the year, I’m going to state this is one of the finest novels I will read in 2013. It is astonishingly assured for a debut novelist, and reminded me of one of my favourite authors, Jon McGregor, in style and content, but with nothing so derivative. It is a story of innocence, and trying to live in a society that has changed the meaning of innocence. Three characters live in an area which borders a strip of woodland; this remnant means something different, but ultimately similar, for each. For TC, a young neglected outsider, it is refuge and connection. For Jozef, a sad and lonely man far from his native Poland, it is reminder and comfort. For Sophia, quietly mourning her beloved husband who died years previously, it is something to passionately care for that keeps her going. Full of beautiful passages of observation of the natural world that has managed to coexist in an otherwise urban environment (despite the depredations of human occupation) this is a multi-layered and thoughtful novel. It has lingered in my memory and I look forward to seeing what this writer will produce in the future. Lindy


A boy creeps down from a high-rise block in the half-light of dawn to see the neat prints left by a fox on the frosty grass. He is TC, eight years old and skipping school to spend his time exploring the city's waste ground and long-forgotten wild corners. At school and at home he is barely missed. Sophia, seventy-eight and a half and still wearing her dear dead husband's shoes, looks out through her kitchen window at the little city park outside her flat, its grassy acres grimy and litter-blown, but to her eyes beautiful. She is writing her weekly letter to her granddaughter Daisy, whose privileged upbringing means she exists in a different world to that of TC, even though they live less than a mile apart. Jozef spends his days clearing houses and works night shifts at the local takeaway, but he is unable to forget the farm he left behind in Poland, the woods and fields he grew up with still a part of him, although he is a thousand miles away. When he meets TC in the little park one night he finds a kindred spirit, despite the forty years between them: both lonely, both looking for something, both lost.

By:   Melissa Harrison
Imprint:   Bloomsbury
Country of Publication:   United Kingdom
Dimensions:   Height: 216mm,  Width: 135mm,  Spine: 26mm
Weight:   415g
ISBN:   9781408826027
ISBN 10:   140882602X
Pages:   272
Publication Date:   February 2013
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Melissa Harrison is a freelance writer and photographer whose clients include the Guardian. She was the winner of the John Muir Trust's 'Wild Writing' Award in 2010, and Clay is her debut novel. She lives in South London and writes about her local environment on her website, Tales of the City. She is also on Twitter:

A gently-evoked urban tragedy - and the most powerful and original debut novel I've read for years A N Wilson, Readers Digest The way Harrison weaves the threads of her story together has echoes of John Lancaster's much-praised recent novel Capital ... Harrison has a gift too for exploring human bonds ... It is in the descriptive passages that Harrison's lyrical style shines brightest ... Clay is an assured debut novel, that reads like the work of a much more experienced author. Expect great things of Harrison Evening Standard It's no surprise to learn that Melissa Harrison, the award-winning author of this thoughtful first novel, is also a photographer. Her strong visual sense is reflected in the sharply focused descriptions of the changing seasons which form the backdrop to a story of bonds created across national and generational divides ... An insightful study of common humanity and unintended inhumanity Daily Mail Melissa Harrison draws on the urban pastoral style of writers such as Robert Macfarlane ... Her season-by-season chronicle of human deeds against the changing backdrop of plant and animal life conjures up the Shepherd's Calendars of poets such as Spenser and Clare, and a bucolic tradition of rural verse that stretches back into antiquity ... What never falters is the fierce and tender grace of her natural descriptions ... As a nature-writer, Harrison has already, gloriously, blossomed; as a story-teller, she is still in bud. But every reader who cherishes even the scruffiest patch of urban greenery should rejoice in the 'beloved territory' she digs up in Clay Boyd Tonkin, Independent There is a pleasing lack of overt symbolism ... In its loving yet unsentimental depictions of nature, the book is a great success. This is a story that unites people with their surroundings Times Literary Supplement Deeply felt ... Reminiscent, at times, of Rose Tremain's The Road Home, this debut has also been praised by nature writer Robert Macfarlane, and Harrison writes beautifully of the changing seasons. Set against their gentle progress, Harrison's heartbreaking denouement, while predictable, is by contrast all the more shattering The Lady Instantly beautiful in its calm and wise tone Robert Macfarlane Harrison gives lovely expression to her vision of an ecosystem thrumming away beneath the grime of city life Guardian Striking debut novel Independent Clay addresses vital concerns about class and society in gorgeously precise prose ... A novel like this only works when the author persuades you they can get into the heads of radically different characters with equal success - a challenge Harrison more than meets Metro Combining fiction with nature writing, it's peppered with keenly observed descriptions Observer At the heart of Clay is a hymn to attentiveness, both to the natural world and to those we share it with. Stepping out after finishing this book, you may find yourself looking at your own streets with a little more care Financial Times Harrison's serene and measured style of writing does nothing to detract from the passion she has for her subject. This is a haunting, finely written story which will linger in the mind Red The wonderful power of her looking builds a quiet, cumulative poetry. An impressive debut Mark Cocker, author of Crow Country Melissa Harrison's lyrical, precise and beguiling debut novel manages a huge feat of scale, imbuing the absolutely ordinary and marginal with the long memory of place. It's full of intricate human drama, but aches with something bigger and older. It has its own weather Paul Farley, author of The Ice Age Heartfelt, elegiac ... lovingly observed The Sunday Times This lovely novel reinforces how essential green spaces are to all of our lives BBC Countryfile This month's best books ... Harrison's keenly observed depictions of the common's wildness provide a vivid setting for the emotional struggles of her characters Marie Claire Country comes to town with lyrical, visceral power ... She evokes with rhapsodic delight the animal and plant life that still flourishes amid the concrete and Tarmac Independent Among the 2013 debuts, I was taken with Melissa Harrison's Clay. Most reviewers seem to have mistaken it for realism, whereas Harrison, a nature writer if ever there was one, is reaching after something else - a communal style (reminiscent of that of Nan Shepherd a century ago) with a formal determination to meet shared needs. It's beautifully written and doesn't need compromise Ali Smith, New Statesman Books of the Year

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