Caught by the River

Book of the Month

Melissa Harrison | 3rd January 2013


Clay by Melissa Harrison is published today by Bloomsbury. “Instantly beautiful in its calm and wise tone” says Robert Macfarlane.


The little wedge-shaped city park was as beautiful and as unremarkable as a thousand others across the country, and despite the changing seasons many of the people who lived near it barely even knew that it was there – although that was certainly not true of all.

Once much larger, it had been designated common land back in Victorian times, a place ‘for the enjoyment of all’, but had been eaten into and built upon over the years, as is the way with land not seen to earn its keep. Now it was more like a very wide verge which followed the long, unlovely high road for much of its length, interrupted here and there by side streets and a few grander buildings which had fenced off their own stretch to make a private garden in defiance of planning laws nobody seemed willing to enforce.

The Plestor Estate formed its westernmost boundary and the bus-thundered high road its east. Along the high road were shops: nail bars, chicken parlours, newsagents, mobile phone unlocking, cheap calls to Africa, launderettes, cab offices and discount booze. Further out were street after street of terraces, some Edwardian, set on wide, tree-lined roads, some narrower and more crowded. There were tall housing blocks, too, and more estates, and to the east there were sidings and sheds and acres of shining track.

A few streets to the north-west were the broad open spaces of a common, many times bigger than the little park and bisected both by the railway line and a road. Its grassy acres were big enough for football pitches and stately plane trees and shabby tennis courts and some surprisingly old oak woods that ran along the embankment on both sides.

The park, the common, the high road: it wasn’t an area you could give a name to, or even a postcode; its borders were too intangible for that. Thousands passed through it every day with barely a glance, their lives intersecting in ways that they would most likely never come to know.

It was the rough territory of a dog fox; the distance an old lady with a stick could cover in an afternoon; the area a small boy could come to know and call his own.

Read more on Melissa’s website.

Melissa will be reading from Clay at the Caught by the River Social Club in London on 22 January. Tickets are on sale here.

Copies of the book can be bought from the Caught by the River shop, priced £13.00