Rural Reads review #8: 'Clay' by Melissa Harrison

Rob Davies reviews the latest rural read.

clayFor the September meeting, we read Clay by debut author Melissa Harrison. Clay is an unusual novel for Rural Reads because it is set firmly in a city; it is, however, about how people within an urban environment interact with the green spaces available to them. This is a theme we as a group find particularly fascinating, partly because of where we all live, but also because of MERL’s urban location in Reading.

Clay is driven by a loose plot about a group of people who in some way or form have a relationship with a green common within a housing estate. The characters all have varying degrees of interaction and relationships with one another; each of them is missing something from their lives and all are craving friendship and companionship. These characters include a young boy from a disrupted home, an elderly widow, her daughter and her granddaughter, and an Eastern European immigrant who lost his farm and now works in England. Each of these characters has a relationship with the Common, which for each of them is variably a place of peace, adventure, memory and intrigue.
Yet it wasn’t so much the plot that captured our attention as the wonderful nature writing with which Harrison filled the pages.

“Over by the oaks the elegant, sandy feathers of tall oat grass floated above the finer, reddish inflorescence of the common bent below, like the two lengths of pelt on a cat.”

Harrison interweaves the main plot with these beautiful descriptions that add a whole new depth to the novel; this is what really captured our imaginations and also why we consider Clay to be a ‘rural read’!

My first question to the group was “did you enjoy Clay?” and I was answered with a unanimous yes. We all enjoyed the book as a whole, and it was a light read that we were easily absorbed by. We all really enjoyed the way Melissa Harrison wrote about nature, and I would recommend reading her blog Tales of the City where she writes about the diversity of nature found in urban environments.

The new home of our bookclub
The new home of our bookclub

For October 30th we’re reading Unicorn by Iris Murdoch, which marks a change in our reading remit. When the Museum closes at the end of October for work on the Our Country Lives redevelopment to take place, Rural Reads will move to the beautiful Staircase Hall in the Victorian part of our building. Our remit will expand to encompass the varied and vast Special Collections held by the University of Reading. Alongside books themed around the countryside, we will be taking inspiration from the libraries and archives. The depth of these collections means we’re all very excited about where this new reading adventure will lead!

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