On Wednesday, May 3 at 7.30pm, Mark Thornton will be in conversation with author Richard Beard at an event at Mostly Books. They will be discussing his new book 'The Day That Went Missing' and we'd really love you to come along. Why? We'll let Mark tell you about this remarkable and extraordinary book, how he came to read it, and why he thinks you should definitely come along...
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"Towards the end of last year, I was lucky to get an advanced reading copy of ‘The Day That Went Missing’ from our rep at Penguin Random House. He didn't know a great deal about it, but I was chuffed to get one and it went straight to the top of my TBR pile.
You see, we’ve known Richard as a customer for years. But we've also gotten to know him as a writer of bold and often experimental fiction, and in the last few years his books - which he cheerful admits are never going to be 'mainstream' - have started garnering notice and critical acclaim. His most recent novel 'Acts of the Assassins' was shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s Prize and also found its way onto the longlist for the Guardian's 'Not The Booker'.
I really didn’t know anything about the book either – even to the point of whether it was fiction or non-fiction – and so when I sat down to read it at the start of this year, I was totally unprepared for my reaction, and blindsided utterly by what I consider to be a little miracle of a book.
I realise the currency of words like "moving", "shocking" and "awe-inspiring" have been greatly devalued from years of blurb ‘hype’ on book jackets, but please understand that these words absolutely nail it. Shocked by the events that occurred in Richard's life, moved (emotionally knocked for six was how I came to think about it) because of the worthiness of his quest, and in awe of the brilliance of what he's achieved with his writing.
Having rather clumsily and cluelessly tweeted a snap of the book initially with a message of 'Hey Richard, I'm about to read your book!' I was also at a loss of how to then contact him to discuss an event (I knew we would want to do an event, by about page 5). It wasn't a case of saying "I loved your book" it was actually wanting to communicate just what I felt after reading it, with a swirl of emotions, and the idea that you can know someone well yet have not one clue about the sad secrets anyone might have in their past.
Anyway, after weeks of prevaricating, I contacted Richard, shared what I felt after reading it, and asked him to come do an event with us. I’m delighted he agreed – so we’d love you to come along on Wednesday May 3.
I’d rather not say too much about the book itself – I would prefer you to come to it in much the way I did (which is impossible, obvs, after this blog post, but you get my drift).
However, here is the bare bones of the true story that Richard tells.
On an August day in 1978, on a family holiday in Cornwall, Richard and his brother Nicholas went for ‘one last swim’ after a day at the beach. Richard was 11 and Nicky was 9. One moment the boys were fine, the next the tide had swept in and they were out of their depth. Nicky drowned.
What happened next was an almost epic act of denial and family stoicism. This was followed by the kind of hard-baked, emotional repression that you only really get with a specific type of 20th century boarding school education.
Forty years later, Richard – facing problems in his own life – decides to excavate his family’s memories and recollections of the incident, which is anything but straightforward. When your own memory plays tricks on you, how can you trust anyone else’s? With his emotions barely contained, Richard embarks on what amounts to a 'cold case' reconstruction: painfully but meticulously tracking down every personal item, fact and scrap of memory about the day. What emerges – slowly, painfully, unbelievably - is as accurate account of what happened on that day in Cornwall in 1978 as is possible to reconstruct.
The book is told in simple, spare prose, and this style means that his discoveries strike home with unusual and profound force.
Yes, Richard is a local author of whom we can feel extremely proud, and that's reason enough to support him and this book. But 'The Day That Went Missing' is important for other reasons.
I wrote recently about bookshops and loneliness, and grief and loneliness can often be wrapped up in each other. Richard's book – when put together with Cathy Retzenbrink’s ‘The Last Act of Love’ and Max Porter's ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’ - form a remarkable troika of titles published in the last couple of years which provide deep truths about the nature of grief (and love) within families. Books (and booksellers) often find themselves on the front line when it comes to dealing with grief, however long ago it happened, and I believe these books offer help in ways that no self-help book or 'grief processing formula' ever can.
I'm not alone. In the Spectator, Nicholas Shakespeare says "'The Day That Went Missing' is a wonderful memoir...the language does exist to make sense of grief. His book deserves to stand on the same shelf as William Fiennes’s 'The Music Room', as a remarkable homage to a lost brother."
Brian Viner in the Daily Mail describes it as "a captivating book, both heartrending and jaw-dropping, [unfolding] like a detective story" and Tom Holland describes it as "a brilliant piece of writing: a book that is as mordantly and often brutally funny as it is moving. Beard’s exploration of how we used to cope with grief, and of how we cope with it now, is compassionate, unsparing and unforgettable.".
Ultimately Nicky’s death – and 'erasure' from history – created a void that exerted a real gravitational pull on Richard’s life, like some distant ‘Planet X’ tugged imperceptibly but constantly over forty years to tilt Richard’s own orbit until the point when he could no longer ignore its effects and had to go back and recover the truth.
That gravitational pull has also resulted in his appearing at Mostly Books on Wednesday May 3. We really you can come along and share Richard's story. Tickets are £4, redeemable off the price of the book and includes a glass of wine. Email us to reserve a ticket.
Even if you can't join us, please do consider buying and reading the book - and discover more about Richard's writing here.