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3.80  ·  Rating details ·  439 ratings  ·  79 reviews
The city is a strange place for Jozef. After living in a Polish village for much of his life, he is struggling to adjust to the tall, grey landscape of apartment living, and his job in a local deli serving french fries and fried chicken to brash, self-assured children makes him feel even more disconnected from the surrounding population. It is only when he encounters TC, a ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 19th 2013 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 3rd 2013)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  439 ratings  ·  79 reviews

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Nov 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2019, modern-lit
Melissa Harrison's debut novel is a brilliant hybrid of fiction and nature writing centred on semi-wild spaces in a London suburb. The events of the book cover a year, broken into seasonal chapters that mix descriptions of the natural world with a cast of characters whose relationship with nature is at the heart of the story.

Its structure could be seen as a precursor to Reservoir 13, but concentrated into a smaller area and smaller time-span, without the mystery, and suburban, with a more defin
May 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Melissa Harrison’s first novel weaves together a human story of four people whose lives are changed when their paths cross with the story of the seasons changing in a city centre park that those four people all love.

TC is 10 years-old, his dad has recently left, he has no real friends, and mother often forgets to give him lunch money or to have food in the house for other meals. And so he spends his time in the park, using the book about nature that his father had left behind – wrapped ready for
Sep 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A melancholy story of loneliness, chance encounters and connections. Life as it is for some. There is upheaval which you might hope would move on to transformation and growth. After the crisis will life remain as it was? How many times do we humans make the same mistakes with disastrous outcomes and then return to our lives and make more of the same mistakes? Harrison’s descriptions of nature almost transcend the haunting ending.
Jan 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: novel
It's difficult for me to comment on this book. Based on the description, it should have been a five for me.

Here's what I didn't like: It was tedious at times. Imagine someone walks into a wooded area or garden or some other natural scene and describes every single detail of that scene. And that description lacks whatever it is that draws you in. That's what some of this book felt like.

I understand that the natural places in this book were characters themselves and that love of the natural world
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I thought this was a beautifully written tale that links a number of inner city Londoners with a love of nature. There is a young boy from a broken family who wants to spend all of his time in the outdoors. The old lady who tends the local commons and tries to pass on her and her dead husbands knowledge and respect for what comes out of the the ground, flies through the air or lives off trees. Her testy relationship with her daughter and granddaughter who live a privileged life. And the middle a ...more
Jan 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2016
The tiny city park is a hub and a focus for many of the local residents. Sophia sees its beauty even through the litter as it is blown around in the wind. A nine year old boy, TC, is discovering the joy that nature can bring as he plays truant from school to explore and discover. Sophia’s granddaughter Daisy who lives round the corner just sees it as a place to play. And there is Jozef, a farmer from Poland, he is now clearing homes and serving at a takeaway, but still has that yearning for the ...more
Eli Brooke
Sep 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
I enjoyed it up until the very end, but I hated the relentlessly brutal ending. Harrison favors "realism" over hope, which I recognize is as valid an outlook as any, so this is an emotional response.

Literature doesn't have to be uplifting, but... [expletive]! The psychology of the characters and their interactions, especially how they could connect but don't, is very well drawn, as is the beauty of the natural world and the way they each seek solace within it. It would have been unrealistic to
I'm from New Zealand so I like my free stuff. I feel like a failure if I fill my plate less than four times at a buffet, and at a wedding or work Christmas party it's rare to find me with fewer than two drinks in my hands at any one time. This novel being the first Goodreads freebie I've read, I was hoping it'd be a five star gem for me. Not sure how it works - if I give a bad review will I not win free books again??
Anyway 'Clay' is short but it meanders like a river. There are no rivers in 'Cl
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I was sent this book by a friend who thought I'd really like it - and she was right! It's set in and around an urban park and common in South London, where large numbers of city-dwellers pass through without truly appreciating the plants and animals living there. This is not the case for 9-year-old TC, Polish immigrant Jozef and local grandmother Sophia, who all take comfort and pleasure from noticing and interacting with the wildlife around them through the seasons. Their relationships with oth ...more
Heather Noble
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An over-protected child, a neglected child, a Polish immigrant and an old lady living lives of differing loneliness. They each find meaning in the nature and small animal life of a nearby park. Their lives sometimes overlap and they seem to communicate and take comfort from each other in small ways and yet this reader, at least, could not relax as an overwhelming foreboding stalked the narrative.

I like Jon McGregor and Robert Macfarlane and the writing has echoes of both.

I look forward to more.
Gavin Felgate
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Melissa Harrison's debut novel opens with a young boy called TC being questioned by social workers about his relationship with Jozef, a Polish fast food worker. From here, it flashes back to the sequence of events that lead up to this moment.

The book introduces the reader to the main characters; TC comes from a broken home, his mother doesn't seem to pay much attention to him, and doesn't even realise that he is skipping school to pursue his interests in wildlife. His Dad has left home, and it i
Jan 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This was a goodreads giveaway and sounded like the kind of book I enjoy. It's about people and the impact they can have on each other's lives.

I thought it was a beautifully written book full of snippets of real life, like Sophia and the daffodil bulbs and her threadbare tea towels. I was all set to give it 5 stars until the end. It was so sad and brutal. In many ways it reminded me of Atonement, the devastation that one thing can have on so many lives.

Would I recommend this book? Yes and I woul
Jun 23, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a really beautiful book. I felt immersed in the world of the characters from the moment I started reading, probably because Melissa Harrison's descriptive prose is incredibly vivid. I loved the main character TC - I could really relate to him. This is one of those stories that will stay with you after you read it.
Judi Gait
Oct 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Loved it! Often when I read I skip the descriptive bits in order to focus on the story. It was the other way round here. The descriptions of the wildlife, weather conditions and seasonal variation were magical! Great to have my love of wildlife nurtured in a novel.
Linda Hepworth
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although for many years I’d enjoyed Melissa Harrison’s nature writing, the first novel of hers which I read was “All Among the Barley” and, having enjoyed her quite brilliant story-telling in that one, I was motivated to read her debut novel … as well as any others she has already written… or will write in the future!
I love her eloquent, lyrical and unhurried prose, which she uses very effectively to encapsulate something essential about the changing seasons of the natural world, demonstrating
Feb 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a terrific little book. Clay follows the lives of several lonely individuals who all find connections, both with each other and through the natural environment, that help them to recover from the losses in their lives. Set in London but with vivid descriptions of gardens and their inhabitants, both flora and fauna, the setting acts, perhaps not as a character but as a catalyst for change, a refuge and a way to connect with what is important in life.

The ending, sadly, was a let down, with
Sandy Hogarth
Aug 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A remarkable and sensitive story of an eight year old boy, TC, of Josef a Polish farmer, and Sophia, 78, who loves her grand daughter, Daisy. Their marginalized lives intermingle. TC skips school, obsessed with wild life. They are all lonely and lost. Josef befriends TC, in a gentle, caring way but which ultimately leads to trouble. Melissa Harrison’s feel for nature in all its forms is a joy, her language lyrical, her characters complex and true. I’d like to take TC home with me. Rarely have I ...more
Sep 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Beautifully written, but in the end rather depressing book about a lonely boy, a lonely immigrant, a lonely pensioner and a park that brings them together.
Aug 12, 2014 rated it did not like it
A boring book which got interesting in the last 3 pages. Some beautiful writing. Lots of waffle. The elements of good social observation got lost amongst descriptions of trees...blah, blah, blah.
Mar 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: no-one
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An interesting novel about loneliness and our disconnection from nature. It centres on a run down city park and four main characters whose lives intersect through their use of the park: Sophia, an elderly widow who refuses to move from her flat in a now run-down estate because she loves overlooking the park; TC, a neglected boy from a nearby tower block who studies the park wildlife while playing truant from school; Josef, who lost his Polish farm after the fall of communism and now works in a t ...more
Aug 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elaine Armstrong
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely read

This is a writer who can set the scenes brilliantly with descriptions of people and sets which you can see in your minds eye. They storyline is different and absorbing, with an ending you cannot guess at. I would have given this five stars but the only criticism I have is that the author loves to use words that really no one is familiar with and my reading was interrupted having to look them up. It is unnecessary and a little irritating. I have an excellent vocabulary and if I came ac
Ivan Monckton
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A story based on a disparate group of characters, all of them pretty ordinary, located around a couple of streets and some patches of rough greenery in a city. Does not sound like the most promising plot, but, believe me, this book is both beautiful and riveting. The main characters are so real and sympathetically drawn, the nature observations so beautiful, it is difficult to believe this is a first novel. In short, the book is superb, and I can thoroughly recommend it.
Alison El Hattach
Nov 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Lyrical and atmospheric; stays with you.
Reminds me of the British lottery funded film Fish Tank. Not the plot per se (athough the film, as in the book, includes a neglectful single mother and its effects on the children) but the bleakness and alienation the story renders. The film is also set in a run down London housing estate.
A reminder that life for most does not always signify that a crisis is followed by self-evolution and a positive transformation of some kind, but simply the struggle for
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
The storyline was obvious from the first chapter and the book failed to build any tension.
Some of the descriptive pieces were engaging, but there was too much focus on descriptions of nature. This stopped the characters from being well describes and well rounded - they were all a little one dimensional and I didn't feel any empathy with anyone. A bit disappointing overall.
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is truly a beautiful book. Very urban, very much a story of now - and yet poetic. And haunting. It's one I can immediately say I will read again.

I also live next to a park in a London suburb and I spend my working life outside in nature. I have read nothing like it before and it really resonated with me. A gem.
Nov 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.75. Takes a little while to 'click' and doesn't always work, but the style here builds powerfully through the book until you end up, without realising, with fate bearing down in a pleasingly nineteenth-century kind of way (seemed to me, anyway). Not quite Silas Marner on a housing estate (and nowhere near as naff as this might sound), but that kind of sprung to mind.
Catherine Davison
The Goodreafs review by Michelle Despres sums up eloquently my own response to this sometimes beautiful but mostly tedious book. I far preferred Harrison's second novel. I felt she gave too much weight to descriptions of nature at the expense of narrative tension.
Suzanne Ashworth
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a haunting book and a strong message - characters are very well drawn and the message is close to my heart. How much we have lost in terms of our links with the land and nature - this book is so true and ultimately so sad - thought-provoking and recommended.
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Melissa Harrison is the author of the novels Clay and At Hawthorn Time, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize, and one work of non-fiction, Rain, which was longlisted forthe Wainwright Prize. She is a nature writer, critic and columnist for The Times, the Financial Times and the Guardian, among others. Her new novel All Among the Barley is du ...more

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