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.