Jean has been searching for love for most of her life. Adopted as a child and raised by a calculating and uncaring mother, Jean is the first to admit that her world has been full of missed opportunities. She's never travelled, never learnt how to drive, has never married, and now spends most her time looking after upscale mansions whilst the owners are away on extended holidays.
Jean seems to live in a perpetual dreamlike state, hovering somewhere between a vague though sapping sense of regret and a sort of grudging acceptance of her lot. She enjoys her job as a house sitter, reveling in the quietness and solitude; she even expects to go on to mind other houses. But when she gets a call from the house-sitting agency coldly informing her that this job managing the grand Walden Manor with be her last, she's absolutely devastated.
The agency thinks it's about time that Jean retired, she's getting just to old to do the job, they're even more anxious to get rid of her when they discover that she has accidentally broken an antique teapot. The news causes Jean to gradually withdraw from the outside world, and she suddenly starts imagining the house as hers, eating all the stored food, wearing the owners' clothes, and enjoying full use of the rooms and contents, even though this has been strictly forbidden by the agency.
Aching for love, Jean invents a son and places an adding the local paper in the hope that he will contact her. When Michael, a petty thief, and small time swindler, who also comes from a damaged childhood, answers it, Jean is overwhelmed with happiness and she chooses to smudge the facts that Michael is probably not really her son. Michael also arrives with the heavily pregnant Steph, dumped by her abusive boyfriend; Steph is an uneducated drifter whom Michael has picked up at a petrol station.
Jean, Michael and Steph are all damaged goods: Michael with the exposure of his squalid life, the absence of friends and prospects, Steph, who has found herself inhabiting places whose surfaces she could not soften and whose depths would not admit her, and Jean, who felt that the house from the very first made her feel things which perhaps she should find strange, but together secluded in this house they find a kind of peace, forming a type of family.
Author Morag Joss, writes a provocative and dark tale of love and deceit. Unfortunately, this trio is living on borrowed time, the owners eventually intending to return. Jean, Michael, and Steph are not only deceiving those around them, but are also intent on self-deception. The fact that Michael and Steph have no right to be at the manor because Jean herself is only temporary, and transient belongs in the end nowhere. But as long as everything remains unsaid it could be deemed not to be happening, "It could remain untrue for as long as they did not draw attention to it."
Joss writes delicately of time and place, using the city of Bath and its surrounds to her sinister advantage, her protagonists caught up in an emotional dilemma, from which they cannot control. Walden manor is indeed awash in silvery light and secrecy, "where time itself has stopped passing." Jean, Michael, and Steph caught up in a familiaral intensity; and the sense of danger and the discovery, once it strikes, is pervasive and ultimately catastrophic.
These are characters living on the edge, their days numbered, with this house weaving itself in and among them "gathering them all in towards itself and to one another." Half Broken Things is a psychologically complex and menacing tale of descent into unfamiliar territory, a kind of quasi sanity; the trio find themselves blindsided by events, violence rushing in, forever altering their perceptions of the world.