Through a Glass Darkly: A Review Of Charlie Roy's The Broken Pane...
The Broken Pane is about the stories we tell ourselves, and others, to make sense of how our lives have turned out, and the roles we are assigned in family life. Narrator Tam has come to believe that the reason her mother left, and her father drank, is her fault by simply being born, and the guilt she carries is overwhelming. The tragic fate of her beloved brother Nicky is the latest emotional trauma she has to face, and although she is not alone – her indomitable Nana especially being there to support – it feels like it.
It’s a brave writer who reveals such a tragedy in the first chapter, but that propels the events that follow, and adds a pathos which makes Tam’s experiences all the more poignant. You really come to care about her and as the book moves towards a conclusion the tension becomes almost unbearable. As she discovers and uncovers the secrets and lies which have shaped not only her life, but that of the whole family, sympathies shift and change and a sense of understanding, if not acceptance, emerges in Tam and readers. Roy understands that life is often messy, complex, and confusing and that trying to make sense of it is both a necessary yet impossible task.
In some ways The Broken Pane leaves you wanting more. More about Nicky’s story, Nana and George’s relationship, and Tam’s adventures while travelling. But that’s testament to Charlie Roy’s ability to invest in her secondary characters an innate relatability, making them more than simply the supporting cast. It’s also a novel that examines familial loss and guilt with an honesty few others manage.
Charlie Roy has written not just one of the best debut novels of 2021, but one of the best full-stop. Harrowing, tragic, yet ultimately uplifting, The Broken Pane breaks your heart then puts it back together before the end.
A version of this review first appeared in The Skinny