Last night I was at a rather special author event at my local indie bookshop Mostly Books with local(ish) author Richard Beard. Mark in the shop had long ago persuaded me to buy Beard’s last novel, Goldsmith Prize shortlisted, The Acts of the Assassins, but sadly I’ve not read it yet – I know I’ll have a real treat in store however, after hearing him talk and a quick chat over signing last night.
Beard’s latest book is autobiographical, an elegant and daring addition to a growing clutch of highly personal books that deal with grief. That’s where any similarity with Cathy Rentzenbrink’s The Last Act of Love (see here) or Max Porter’s novella Grief is the Thing With Feathers (see here) ends.The Day That Went Missing recounts a tragedy that happened to Beard’s family in 1978, how the family dealt with it and how he is finally beginning to come to terms with it.
Beard was 11 years old, second of four boys, the family were on holiday in north Cornwall. He and his 9-year-old brother Nicky had snuck to a cove around the corner from the main beach, they went in the sea and both quickly got out of their depth. Richard had to make the decision to save himself, and Nicky was caught by the undertow and drowned.
Then his family essentially clammed up. The boys didn’t attend Nicky’s funeral. Richard went back to his boarding school without Nicky, and did his best to repress his grief. It wasn’t until forty years later, after his father died, that Richard felt he could talk to his mother about Nicky and that opened up the well-spring of grief, but also a desire in Richard to give Nicky the inquest that had been denied him and his brothers. The result is this book.
Hearing Richard talk about what happened was mesmerising. He calmly, matter of factly, summarised the facts, prompted by questions from Mark and later from the audience. They discussed the frustrations and the unexpected funny moments. Richard had obviously been very hard on himself, and although his voice never waivered, his eyes often glistened and gave a wistful smile at the appreciative applause at the end of the formal part of the evening.
Throughout, Beard stated his belief that his novels and other books were all building up to this one, describing them as ‘clever’ rather than ’emotional’. That’s not the case with The Day That Went Missing. I started reading it as soon as I got home, and his writing is so immediate, it takes you with him all the way. I’m only a quarter of the way through, but I can already recommend this memoir to you without hesitation. More notes to come on completion, but this book is already special.
Source: Own copy bought at Mostly Books and kindly signed by Richard.