Broken by Daniel Clay is the unfortunately chosen and clumsily titled modern day novel about strata. A slice of residents’ lives in Drummond Square are captured and cemented here in all its sadness and weary inevitability, without the need to have resorted to such a “sledgehammer” title. The people in this concrete and awful social housing mix are “broken,” you see? All right, Daniel. We get it.
In addition, the sledgehammer title is also the convenient nickname of a character in the book – “Broken” Buckley. Handily alliterative and formerly known as Rick, Broken is a monster a recluse hiding upstairs in a room at the front of a house on Drummond Square. And if you want to know why he lives as a recluse hiding upstairs in a room at the front of a house on Drummond Square, it is because his mum and dad once bought and then moved into the house on Drummond Square where the recluse lives upstairs, in a room at the front. And if you are wondering why those sentences are repetitive and rhythmic, that’s because most of the book is narrated by Skunk – a girl, in a bed, in a coma, unraveling her story backwards. And that’s how she chooses to tell it to make sense of it all.
How she came to be in a bed in a coma reads like a teenager’s diary that’s part Shameless, part Nightmare on Elm Street. The narrative device and rhythms capture a confused girl’s attempt at assimilating events for herself, but they occasionally become a little annoying and get in the way. To counter this, Clay also adopts the omniscient voice to bring in the grubby motivations and behaviors of the other characters who inhabit Drummond Square–Bob Oswald, a two-dimensional cut out of a paradoxically real thug in a stained vest and his five daughters, all varying degrees of liars. There is also an assortment of other streaks and stains.
Amongst all this is Skunk, her brother Jed and accountant father Archie. Archie also gets rescued by a pantomime gypsy – caravan and heart of gold and all – called Dillon. But, hang on, a monster down the road called Broken Buckley, a family with names like Skunk, Jed and Archie? This sounds suspiciously like To Kill A Mockingbird’s Atticus, Scout and Jem, Boo Radley…even Dill.
Yes, Clay has attempted to transport the lynchings of the American South to the broken glass and chipped concrete of a blocked drain of an estate in Hampshire. Sometimes veering into melodrama, often dark and brutal, Broken works best when the decisions and thought processes of the residents are dissected for us to consider how they relate to ourselves. How much can we affect change or alter “destiny”? And not the romantic destiny of diamonds and riches either, but the all too common fate for many of leaking pipes, cracked windows and a rubbish view.
Hope and hell go hand in hand. Broken is a story about choices, or lack thereof. If you can get over the, at times, cloying rhythm, visiting the residents of Drummond Square makes for an affecting and grimly disturbing read.
This is a Guest Post by lovereading.co.uk.