Broken by Daniel Clay

The dead or comatose protagonist or narrator is fast becoming a literary cliché and Daniel Clay takes a good stab at popularising the idea with a first novel billed as a cross between The Lovely Bones and Shameless.

Sadly, while Broken begins promisingly enough, the Shameless side quickly dominates and the comatose eleven-year-old’s voice swiftly fades and disappears for more than 100 pages, before returning to add little. What’s left is a caricature that, while too cartoonish to be satirical, does offer some comedy.

The Shameless inspired Oswalds live in a housing association property on the edge of a middle class Southampton square, setting us up for a traditional British comedy of class and manners. But the novel has no sympathy for the Oswalds and so we can never really believe in the family; there’s no pathos and so they’re simply condemned as trash.

That eleven-year-old, Skunk Cunningham, lives with her lone parent father, a solicitor, her brother and their live-in au-pair. But we only know the Cunninghams are posher than the Oswalds because Daniel Clay has told us; to name your daughter after a band, Skunk Anansie, is a very chavy thing to do.

There is no evidence of any kind of research (a healthy child dies of thirst in less than four days), relevant experience or empathy. Instead, Broken is underpinned by Daniel Clay’s unrelenting cynicism, which quickly becomes wearing. Hung over Hampshire police route a report of a missing child to the Glasgow fire service, the NHS forgets to give a mentally ill man his medicine, scene of crime experts charge time-and-a-half and so on.

Broken is a novel to be read as it appears to have been written; in one hurried sitting. But if you enjoy Shameless, you might enjoy Broken as an unchallenging holiday read.
Broken is published on 3 March 2008: pre-order your copy from Amazon.co.uk.

4 thoughts on “Broken by Daniel Clay

  1. i’ve never read shameless or the lovely bones but i found broken to be incredibly similar to harper lee’s to kill a mocking bird.

  2. Stephen Newton’s critique is very poor and I wonder if he has has written his review in “one hurried sitting”. Why should the novel have any sympathy for the Oswalds? – they are thoroughly objectionable and families such as them exist. Does Newton live in such a protected world that he has never seen this sort of behaviour? Anyway, some might argue that there are reasons to be sympathetic towards Bob Oswald. He lives his life in a way that he has convinced himself is right. He lives by his own (a)moral code. His own misguided protection of his family drives all that he does. The death of his wife during childbirth gives some clue as to why he might be the person that he is. He lives by the rule of society’s undesirables – give me respect but don’t expect any in return.

    Personally, I found “Broken” a riveting read and the title of the book is thought provoking in itself. To what does it refer? It is not just Rick Buckley but also the Oswald family, the Cunningham’s, Skunk (who narrates the story from a coma) and the whole of society itself – which this book is a commentary on.

    However, despite all that there is to be depressed about in the book and its (albeit exaggerated) reflection of society, there is also a glimmer of hope through it all. The humanity and sensitivity of its hero. Despite everything, Skunk decides that life is still worth living, mainly because of the love she has from and towards others.

  3. Further to my previous response. I found no humour in a aspect of this book and I wonder which part of it Newton found amusing? Furthermore, why do we have to have sympathy for the Oswald family in order to find them believable? I have been a teacher for twenty years and have come across many families of this type. I have no sympathy for them either but that does not make them any the less real. AS for Daniel Clay’s cynicism, does this not reflect society too? The point he seems to be making is that if you are a unpleasant low life then the ‘system’ will look after you, but if you are a hard working, decent and honest individual then you get nothing from the system when you need it – sounds like a very accurate reflection of society to me. So no; I did not find this aspect of the book “wearing”. I found it refreshingly honest and open. I felt, here is someone who is telling it like it is and has provided a voice that so many of us no longer have. Is the book unchallenging? I think Newton’s own critique conflicts with this statement. It challenges his view of society and it challenges society itself and the way we live our lives. It recognises that things could be so much better.

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