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Clay, by Melissa Harrison, is set in Brixton, an area of South London, and focuses on the Brixton environment. Due to heavy bombing in World War II, Brixton became almost a poster child of urban decay. Local authorities tried to revitalize the area by building blocks of high-rise drab, cheap council housing (what in the United States would be called public housing projects). Home to many economically disadvantaged immigrants and racial minorities, Brixton was notable in the 1980s and 1990s for riots and high crime rates. Although Brixton itself is now undergoing some degree of gentrification, Harrison's novel explores a local park as an emblem of the resilience of nature against this atmosphere of urban blight.
The real landscape of the park is described in loving detail and seems an emblem of life and hope against the grim neighboring urban area; the narrator says of the park:
It was alive with squirrels, jays and wood mice, while in spring thrushes let off football rattles from the treetops, and every few summers stag beetles emerged ...
The park also draws together three very different characters, the 10-year old neglected TC, the middle aged Josef who lost but still dreams of his farm in Poland, and the elderly widow Sophia who finds in the park memories of her husband and their happy times in and overlooking the park.
The main purpose or message of the novel concerns the redemptive power of nature.
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