“This intense and intricate novel charts the fascinating, often frightening lives of three families in suburban Britain. Daniel Clay shows a masterful empathy for his characters, while never shying from their frailties and agonies. BROKEN is surprising, shocking, and cruelly funny at times. It’s an unforgettable book.”
“Daniel Clay tells the truth about childhood in the modern world, and captures all the elements of a great novel: suspense, desperation, love, and death.”
“It’s funny and sad and moving.”
“Bold, prescient, engaging.”
“Clay’s debut novel is remarkably controlled and disciplined as it depicts those who spiral out of control.... Clay succeeds in inciting pity even for a murderer [and his] triumph is in exploring the kindness and love that might heal and restore and what it is to feel fully alive.”
English writer Clay's disjointed debut traces the story of Skunk Cunningham, an 11-year-old girl living with her father, brother and au pair. One day, Skunk watches as local thug Bob Oswald beats teenager Rick Buckley. Bob, whose five daughters go to school with Skunk, is one-dimensionally horrible and has no qualms about bullying kids or teachers as he protects his daughters. Skunk and crew, meanwhile, spend their days in school steering clear of the Oswald girls, who are as psycho as their father. Between bouts of violence, things in the British suburb are quiet, and Rick becomes a virtual prisoner in his home, only to later emerge as a "broken" and violent beast. The novel is nearly plotless and overflows with generalized nastiness, and the grim proceedings, while initially discomforting, don't do anything except pile on and become banal. (Sept.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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‘Skunk, Skunk. Wake up, beautiful darling.’
Archie, my father, holds both my hands as he says this. I sense his words rather than hear them:
‘Skunk, Skunk. Wake up, beautiful darling.’
I also sense his life now.
It seeps through his palms into my palms. It deadens the blood in my veins. My heartbeat slows. I shudder. Poor old Archie. This is the way that his life is. I see it. I feel it. I know it. Tonight, from midnight through to two in the morning, he will sit all alone in the front room and watch a video of the day I was born. Almost twelve years ago now. There I am. You can see me. A wrinkled pink sack of flesh that does little but lie on its back with tubes feeding into its nostrils. Not a lot different to now then. Here I lie, on my back, with tubes feeding into my nostrils. But tonight I will be a newborn. All that hope. All that promise. Poor old Archie. He’ll sit all alone and he’ll watch me. He’ll drink and he’ll think, how did it happen? How did it end up like this? Then he’ll go to the bed that he shares with Cerys and listen to her crying. He’ll cry a little himself.
Finally, he will sleep and dream that the harsh ringing sound by his bedside is the Royal Hampshire County Hospital phoning to say I am dead. He will sit up, gasping, but it won’t be his phone that is ringing, it will be his alarm clock, and it will be time to get up, go to work.
In work, Archie will sit at his desk and recoil every time the phone rings, then he’ll rush here to see me.
‘Skunk, Skunk. Wake up, beautiful darling. Don’t you leave me. Don’t youdare.’
All of this will happen. I know for sure it will happen. I know everything now. Especially about Broken Buckley. Poor old Broken Buckley.Hunched over his mother’s corpse.Hands pressed to his temples.How and why? Oh how and why? His story started with Saskia Oswald: Broken loved Saskia Oswald. Had. Once. Loved. Saskia. Oswald. But Saskia Oswald never loved him. She just loved his car. She said, Hey, soldier, fancy taking me for a ride? Did he? Oh, did he. Poor old Broken Buckley. He was nineteen years old and a virgin, the sort of guy who spits when he speaks, just little flecks of saliva that hang in the air and distract you from whatever he’s saying. Saskia Oswald ate him for breakfast — ate him up and then spat him out. Not enough for her though. She had to tell everyone about it, and that’s when it started for him.
‘Skunk, please, God, blink, just blink if you can hear me . . . we’re here, darling. We’re all here beside you.’
It didn’t finish there though. It never does with the likes of the Oswalds. They’re the family in one of the Housing Association properties on the opposite side of the square. Single parent. Lots of children. Music all hours of the night. Bin bags in the front garden. Portsmouth FC flags hanging from the windows. Maori-style tattoos on overdeveloped biceps. This is Bob Oswald. The father.
Bob Oswald. The father.
The first time I saw him hitting someone, I was coming up ten years old.
It was summer, hot, and Rick Buckley was washing the car his father had bought him as a present for passing his driving test. Skunk Cunningham was skipping on the tarmac drive that had once been their front garden. Other than Skunk and Rick, Drummond Square was empty.
The attack happened out of nowhere. Skunk didn’t hear anyone speaking. She didn’t hear anyone shouting. The first thing she heard was the scream: it was high-pitched, like a horse, and before she knew what was happening, Bob Oswald had Rick Buckley in a headlock and was twisting him sideways, like wrestling a bull. The two of them staggered out of the Buckleys’ front garden and into the otherwise empty square. Rick Buckley shouted, Stop it, I haven’t done anything wrong.
Bob Oswald hit him. Not a punch, but a blow with the point of his elbow. It landed in the small of Rick’s back. Rick collapsed to his knees.
. . . .
‘That bloody Bob Oswald,’ Mr Buckley continued. ‘He’s reduced my son to a nervous wreck and got away without even a caution.’
‘You need to go back to the police,Dave.’Archie’s voice rumbled from deep inside his stomach, ‘A vicious attack on a nineteen-year-old boy . . . no matter what Bob Oswald thought he’d been up to . . . they have to do something about that.’
Mr Buckley laughed in a way I found scary. ‘What like? An ASBO? A caution?’
‘It’s GBH at least,’ Archie said after a moment. ‘Bob should be facing prison.’
Mr Buckley’s voice was high and shaky where my father’s was soft and deep. ‘You know better than I do he’ll be facing no more than community service. What’ll probably happen is the police’ll decide to charge me with wasting their time. It’s been an eyeopener,this has. A real bloody shock.’
A long silence followed. Finally, Archie broke it.
‘How’s the boy, anyway?’
Mr Buckley’s voice went from shaky to jumpy. ‘Broken,’ he said. ‘Utterly broken. He reckons he’s never leaving the house again.’
Another silence followed. I was very nearly asleep. It was way, way past my bedtime. Only Archie’s voice kept me awake. ‘He just needs time,’ he said to Mr Buckley. ‘Don’t worry. He’ll be OK.’
But Archie was wrong. Mr Buckley’s son was not OK. Just as he’d said to his father, he stayed inside the house. The car he had been cleaning the day Bob Oswald attacked him stood unused on the drive. The curtains to his room stayed shut.