The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer

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The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This sweeping, panoramic novel is steeped in both Regency and Victorian London. The central character, nicknamed King Cole, is an Aboriginal cricketer - and he's a long way from home: his story is breathtaking.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 640 Date: April 2010
Publisher: Myriad
ISBN: 978-978-0956251503

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Hillyer has taken several historical facts and seamlessly blended in a big dollop of fiction to create a complex and riveting story. The title is suitably enigmatic, as is King Cole (or Brippoki). He and his fellow cricketers (who also have been given rather unkind nicknames) have sailed from the bottom of the world, to the bustling metropolis of London. Talk about extremes. And although they have all been diligently 'schooled' in all things English, nevertheless, they are the talk of the town. The novel has barely started and already the mind boggles.

Hillyer has all the aborigines speak in a kind of pidgin English. It is both poignant and endearing. When they are touring England, you get the strong sense that they are truly a breed apart. They are all so different in so many ways; in their looks, their speech, their mannerisms. There is the feeling that they are on show in some freak, Victorian circus.

The novel's introduction is all about cricket, cricket and more cricket. And yes, I accept that a big novel, such as this, needs a suitably big introduction, I did, however, find it overly long. But, having said that, don't let it put you off. Once into the story proper, I was truly hooked.

King Cole strikes up a very odd friendship with a young middle-class woman called Sarah (he calls her Thara). She's timid and shy, living a rather dull and lonely life and seems to spend most of her free time in the British Library. The dusty academia of the place is beautifully described by Hillyer when he says In this place only the book-bindings kept their colour. Sarah is basically reading about other peoples' lives - instead of living her own life. But that's all about to change ...

King Cole is wholly unconventional. He's an exotic creature in the dullness of an English winter. His regular meetings with Sarah really push the reader's imagination to the limit - and then some.

Slowly, they are trying to solve a complex and complicated puzzle - about events which had taken place several generations ago. The reader is almost bombarded with information - from such diverse subjects as religion, geography, history, culture. The list goes on. You name it and this novel seems to deliver.

Hillyer certainly crams a lot in this book. Every single page is full to bursting. Yet every single word earns its place. Famous London landmarks are lovingly described in detail. When I was reading these descriptive passages, I was reminded of Dickens a little. As if all that were not enough, every chapter starts with a quote or saying.

Cole comes across as a magical/mystical character. Stealthy as a cat, cunning as a fox, innocent as a baby, he's a heady mixture of all of this - and more. What came across to me about Cole was his desperate sadness. And his uneasy displacement. He's neither of Australia nor of England. He's really in no man's land. His story will break your heart.

The reader also meets a bunch of colourful London characters along the way. Their Cockney accent gives a lovely, humorous lift to the book. Not exactly needed, but welcome just the same.

The reader gets a true sense of the passage of time. For example, when Sarah visits yet another well-known London building and is admiring some mural paintings there, she innocently asks of her (rather snooty) guide Where is Australia? to which she receives the crisp and ready reply My dear, Australia was yet to be discovered. Talk about sweeping statements.

The whole novel is breathtaking in its scope and originality. This is a multi-layered literary read. Thoroughly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also like to looks at Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold. You might also enjoy Wanting by Richard Flanagan.

Buy The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer at Amazon.com.

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