A British novelist and nonfiction writer’s account of his struggle to come to terms with the death of a younger brother that his family never fully acknowledged.
In the summer of 1978, Beard (Acts of the Assassins, 2015, etc.) and his family went on a holiday to Cornwall. During their time there, his 9-year-old brother Nicholas died in a drowning accident, which the author witnessed. Instead of mourning his death, however, the family sought refuge in “an epic level of denial.” Neither Beard nor his two other brothers attended the funeral. In the weeks and years that followed, Nicholas’ name was expunged from all conversations and mementos, including a clock that bore an engraved list of all family members except Beard’s dead brother. For almost 40 years the author experienced an anguish he could not understand and that only deepened over time. Desperate to make peace with the incident and his role in it, he began a scrupulously detailed, emotionally wrenching exploration of the events surrounding the tragedy. Both he and Nicholas had been playing together on a remote beach when an undertow swept both away from the beach. Rather than try to save his brother, Beard decided to save only himself. Unrelenting guilt drove him to examine family documents, maps, and newspaper clippings and interview family members, the officials at Nicholas’ school, and those involved in the recovery of Nicholas’ body. It also forced him to probe his own past and present feelings toward Nicholas, feelings that ran the gamut from affection to jealous disdain. In a moment of disturbingly profound insight, he realized that the reason he and his family “refused to believe [that Nicholas] needed his home and family [was] because we’d blocked out those needs in ourselves.” Meticulously crafted and searingly honest, Beard’s narrative is at once a story about the long and difficult road to self-forgiveness and a commentary on the wages of British emotional repression.
A quietly brooding and intense memoir of family and reckoning with the past.