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Clay    by David Almond order for
by David Almond
Order:  USA  Can
Delacorte, 2006 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

David Almond's Clay gets thicker and deeper as the reader progresses into the story. It's narrated by fourteen-year old David Frances Malone, who sets the scenario, with 'Proddies v. Catholics' from Pelaw and Felling, as follows ...

On a February morning, Davie and best friend Geordie Craggs have just left St. Patrick's church as altar attendants. While walking on Watermill Lane, they note a taxi arriving in front of the home of Crazy Mary Doonan. A lad rushes out, past the welcoming aunt. The lad in question is Stephen Rose of Whitley Bay. Rumor has it that Stephen was given the hoy from Bennett College, where he was studying to be a priest. It's rumored that he was an evil influence. Stephen's dad died of a heart ailment, and his mom had been institutionalized for a mental disorder. Of Bennett College, Stephen says, 'a priest once said that mebbe I was more suited to the wilderness than to the civilized world.'

Father O'Mahoney believes that Davie and Geordie would be a good influence in Stephen's life - 'You could be just what that lad needs.' The boys meet Stephen, and so begin pensive, tensive relationships. Stephen has a gift - an artistic talent for sculpting clay figures. He senses that Davie has the gift as well. Davie is drawn into heinous crimes, and together they create Clay.

Davie and Geordie take Stephen to a pond at Braddock's Garden where there is an undying supply of 'deep, deep down, yellowy clay.' Stephen carves his figures in a cave, on the premises of the quarry. He professes that we are made of dust floating around in the air - 'That's why clay's best ... Wood's been alive already so it's dead. And how can you get something that's dead turn to something that's alive again? ... You got to start from the start again, from something that's never been nowt ... Like God did'. Through hypnosis, Stephen controls the thoughts of his aunt (who believes in God and angels), at times putting her into a trance, allowing her memory to be erased. Together, Davie and Stephen shape a living, evil being, whom they control as its creators. 'I am here, master. Command me' it says.

Davie and Geordie fear hefty-sized, large-handed Martin Mould (Mouldy), a sixteen-year-old drinker and bully. The boys try to avoid Mouldy, but at times they fall prey to the tormentor's wrath - 'the hardest bugger for miles around'. Mouldy's cohorts report to their leader when odd doings come to their attention, such as the developing relationship between Davie and Stephen, and between Davie and girlfriend Maria O'Callaghan.

David Almond, who grew up in an extended Catholic family in northern England, tells us that aspects of Clay are 'suffused with the landscape and spirit of my own childhood and experiences'. Of his stories, Almond pens, 'Writing can be difficult, but sometimes it really does feel like a kind of magic. I think that stories are living things - among the most important things in the world.' Clay is a daunting, compelling story, in which Almond draws in the reader to not only 'believe in the unbelievable', but feel his characters' emotions. The novel is thought-provoking and powerful with lyrical prose and beguiling accented brogue, as in 'nick off', and 'the thump of his winklepicker boots'.

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