A family story of exceptional power and universal relevance - about loss, about carrying on, and about recovering a brother's life and death.
Life changes in an instant.
On a family summer holiday in Cornwall in 1978, Nicholas and his brother Richard are jumping in the waves. Suddenly, Nicholas is out of his depth. He isn’t, and then he is. He drowns.
Richard and his other brothers don’t attend the funeral, and incredibly the family return immediately to the same cottage – to complete the holiday, to carry on. They soon stop speaking of the catastrophe. Their epic act of collective denial writes Nicky out of the family memory.
Nearly forty years later, Richard Beard is haunted by the missing grief of his childhood but doesn’t know the date of the accident or the name of the beach. So he sets out on a pain-staking investigation to rebuild Nicky’s life, and ultimately to recreate the precise events on the day of the accident. Who was Nicky? Why did the family react as they did? And what actually happened?
The Day That Went Missing is a heart-rending story as intensely personal as any tragedy and as universal as loss. It is about how we make sense of what is gone. Most of all, it is an unforgettable act of recovery for a brother.
Richard Beard’s six novels include Lazarus is Dead, Dry Bones and Damascus, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. In the UK he has been shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award and longlisted for the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award. His latest novel Acts of the Assassins was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize in 2015. He is also the author of four books of narrative non-fiction, including his 2017 memoir The Day That Went Missing. Formerly Director of The National Academy of Writing in London, he is a Visiting Professor (2016/17) at the University of Tokyo, and has a Creative Writing Fellowship at the University of East Anglia. In 2017 he is a juror for Canada’s Scotiabank Giller Prize. Beard is also an occasional contributor to the Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Financial Times, Prospect and The Nightwatchman.
He studied at Cambridge, at the Open University, and with Malcolm Bradbury on the Creative Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. He has worked as a P.E. teacher, as Secretary to Mathilda, Duchess of Argyll, and as an employee of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. In the Mendip Hills Richard Beard looked after Brookleaze, a house owned by the Royal Society of Literature, and lived for three years in Japan as Professor of British Studies at the University of Tokyo.
He is one of several opening batsmen for the Authors XI Cricket Club.
Grief is an intimate thing. No one really can know how you feel when you lose a loved one, but I know from experience that it can be shared. It was hard for me to imagine that this family suffered in silence for so many years having shut out such a tragic loss.
“Nicky is fragmented, the scraps of his life scattered in pieces that until now no one has thought to gather together. We erased the accident at the beach, and along with the pain we effectively deleted Nicholas Paul Beard the person. We may not have meant to but we did, though not entirely.”
Richard Beard was eleven years old when his nine year old brother Nicky drowned while his family vacationed by the sea in Cornwall, England. Forty years later he is trying to uncover the memory of that day, the story of who his brother was and confront his grief. He didn’t even know the date his brother died, so he begins his “inquest”. He is feeling the need to face that repressed grief, the fact that he saw his brother drown but never told anyone, haunting him with guilt. He talks to his mother and his brothers seeking their recollection of that day, their memories of his brother. He searches through his mother’s attic for remnants of his brother’s life - boarding school reports, things that belonged to his brother, his father’s papers and records for clues to what happened. He painfully returns to the beach where it happened, to the house the family was renting when the tragedy occurred, the very same house that his parents brought them back to right after the funeral. I couldn’t imagine that. This is a sad, difficult journey as Beard grapples with his own memories and those of his family which are sometimes at odds with his own remembrances. I don’t know for sure if he found the peace he was seeking, but I hope so. This is a beautifully written and moving memoir and I’m interested in perhaps reading some of his fiction.
I received an advanced copy of Little, Brown and Company.
In the Summer of 1978, nine year-old Nicholas Beard drowned. The Beard family, brushed it under the rug and never spoke of it thereafter.
Richard Beard, Nicky’s older brother, who was eleven at the time, was in the water with him that day. The undertow almost got him too. He had a choice, he knew that he could only save one of them, so Richard swam to shore.
Richard Beard has felt a weight on his shoulders for his whole entire life. Since his family has never spoke of what happened to Nicky, he doesn’t even know the date of his brother’s death. Knowing that he can’t move on or let go until he remembers his brother and what happened, Richard starts investigating and asking questions. It is then that he finds the truth. First, finding the time and place of his brother’s passing: August of 1978 in Tregardock, off the coast of England, then photos of Nicky and trinkets including records and reports of his, kept by his mother. There are very few. What strikes Richard most is that the family returned both to the beach and to the cottage they were renting, shortly after his brother’s death, to carry on their vacation as if nothing had happened. And that is how his parents lived their life thereafter. As if nothing had happened.
Richard Beard’s attempts to find out what happened and to deal with his emotions are incredible. For a man to go on a life’s journey to deal with the grief and pain of losing his brother, who no one else in his own family properly mourned, is something no one can possibly understand. It takes courage, strength and a lot of heart. “The Day That Went Missing” is a well crafted memoir which is a tale of loss and a man’s attempt to honor and remember his brother, Nicholas Beard.
Thank you to Little Brown and Company and Richard Beard for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
This is a very moving, true tale, of how the author set out to come to terms with the death of his brother, more than 30 years after it had happened. When Richard Beard was 11, in 1978, he and his younger brother Nicholas, aged 9, decided to have one final swim from a dangerous beach in Cornwall as the rest of the family were packing up to go back to the house they'd rented for their holiday there. Both Richard and Nicholas got into trouble, but Richard managed to swim to shore, whereas his brother drowned.
Since that day, none of the family (Richard has an older brother, Tim, and a younger brother Jem) have ever dwelled on Nicholas's death, or even discussed it. His mother and father never spoke about it to each other, until the day his father died in 2011. Richard's memory of the day was hazy - he didn't even know the date - so he decided it was about time he looked into exactly what happened. He partly blames himself for the death, as he didn't help Nicholas at the time, saving himself instead, and when he looks back into his brother's short life, he comes to the conclusion that they'd didn't get on that well, and that he was jealous of Nicholas to some extent.
The most surprising thing that Richard discovers is that, after going home to Swindon for a couple of days for the funeral (which none of the brothers attended, as it was thought they were too young), the family went back to Cornwall for another week to finish the holiday - even going to the same beach. I can't begin to imagine what that was like, and, indeed, Richard had completely blocked this week from his memory.
This is essentially about the way Richard and his brothers were brought up, partly at home and partly at the private boarding school they went to, to repress all emotion and carry on with a 'stiff upper lip'. Unfortunately, such behaviour can lead people to carry around a trauma for years, deep inside them. This is a very sad story, but it must have been a cathartic thing to write about for the author, and it is also a deeply insightful account to read.
On a hot summer’s day in 1978, 11-year-old Richard Beard is on holiday with his family, playing on a Cornish beach with his three brothers. As his mother begins to pack up the picnic, he and his nine-year-old brother Nicholas ask for one last swim. They run into the sea, but minutes later, as they splash about, Richard feels a strong current rip the sand from under his feet. Fighting for his life, he swims to shore with one last look at his brother, whose face is frightened and strained as he succumbs to the ocean. Richard reaches the safety of the beach and runs to tell an adult, but it is too late and his brother Nicky has drowned.
It’s a horrific event and one which would gouge deep scars in anyone’s psyche. But for Richard the trauma is compounded by the astonishing fact that for almost forty years after the event, his brother is barely mentioned in the Beard family.
This memoir is Richard’s attempt after all of the intervening years to find out exactly what happened on that sunny day and try to come to terms with it.
In large part, the book is a therapeutic project undertaken by a man trying to face some deeply repressed demons. His emotional journey is convoluted but one gets the impression that by the end he has - in the language of therapists - made a breakthrough.
It’s also a book about the effort that some adults will put in to avoid dealing with trauma. Richard’s parents went to incredible lengths to ‘keep calm and carry on’, and in doing so wrought hefty emotional damage on their remaining three children and probably themselves.
Following Nicky’s death, the family left their rented Cornish cottage and went home to Swindon where they were inundated with condolence cards. Six days after Nicky died they buried him. His brothers were not invited to the service. And what did these grieving parents do after burying their son? Immediately after the funeral (without even stopping at the church for tea), they got back in their car, picked up the other three boys, and drove back to their holiday cottage in Cornwall - after all, they had it booked for a whole month. Even more incredibly, just nine days after Nicky drowned, they returned for a fun family day out at the same exact beach where it had happened, all trying their best to keep a stiff upper lip and forge onward. This bizarre revelation, when it finally emerges, comes as as much of a surprise to Richard as the reader - he has totally blanked this from his memory. Sometimes reading this book, the 1970s feel less like a different time and more like a different planet. Reading about the parents’ reaction it seems like lunacy. If a family behaved like that nowadays, it would (probably unfairly) raise questions of foul play or neglect. But as Richard Beard points out, that was simply the way that many middle class British families behaved at the time when faced with trauma. They simply didn’t have the vocabulary or the ability to express their grief, so they repressed it instead.
By the time this book was being written, Richard Beard’s father had passed away. There is a disorientating moment in the book when his mother explains to Richard that in the 35 years after his brother died, her and her late husband never once spoke about him. Indeed, at the beginning of the process, Richard hadn’t even been sure of the day Nicky died or his birthday - neither had been memorialised in the Beard household.
So this is a very sad and harrowing book. Unfortunately though, I didn’t find it particularly compelling. Beard is honest about his thoughts and feelings regarding his brother’s death, but for some reason his grief never felt real or tangible to me. The journey that he undertakes feels a little aimless and there was a lot of repetition. He pings between awkward conversations with his mother, visiting his old school, and going to the scene of the tragedy. Life rarely imitates art but the lack of a coherent arc was bothersome for me.
This was undoubtedly a difficult book to write, but for me at least it was also difficult to read. I was never quite sure where it was headed, and felt that it might have fitted more neatly into a slimmer volume.
With thanks to the publishers for providing me with a free ARC in return for an honest review
This is the fascinating memoir about the research Richard Beard carried out to rediscover what really happened when his younger brother, Nicky, drowned off a Cornish beach in 1978. The family are incredibly repressed even for 1970s standards, and after Nicky - who was 9 - dies no one speaks of him again. In fact, the family go home to Swindon to bury the boy and then, amazingly, return to Cornwall to finish their holiday. But somehow, despite the tragic content, I never quite connected with the story, and felt as though Beard kept the reader at a distance, and the real emotional heart that must have been there, never came through.
I was incredibly moved by this book which in reality is like a cold case investigation – not only of the facts surrounding the death of Richard’s brother but also the in-depth analysis of how the family effectively erased Nicholas from consciousness. Clearly the death of a child is sad but what is even more heart-breaking is how the family coped with this event, and in particular Richard as it is he that leads the investigation.
Richard does not spare himself neither does he chose to castigate or cast blame on others, he merely examines what facts he has, any tangible evidence he can find and any verbal witness statements from a wide, but limited range of people, including his family.
Through this forensic examination one hopes that Richard can find some resolution, some comfort because this self-analysis has given us a text which is unbelievably brave; well-written and insightful.
Thank you for an inspiring book Mr Beard.
Thank you NetGalley for providing an ARC of this book via my Kindle in return for an honest review.
A very poignant, brutally raw account of the journey the author makes in to his past to uncover the facts surrounding his brother's death, something that his family hadn't spoken of since that day. It is a heartwrenching, and difficult read, yet one I was compelled to finish, to see the author safely to the end of his journey, to the point where he could finally grieve and feel the loss. The way it is written details a mind trying to make sense of memories, some hazy, some vivid, some secondhand from others completely forgotten until passed on; trying to come to an understanding in graphic detail of what happened before, during and after, of piecing the puzzle back together. A brilliant insight in to grief, family psychology, siblings, boarding school education and a time before technology, yet universal timeless reminders of how fragile life is and how moments matter.
Most memoirs are described as 'honest', aren't they? I think THE DAY THAT WENT MISSING should be the new barometer for honesty, as it truly explores grief in its most raw, brutal and flawed state. Richard Beard was eleven years old when his younger brother Nicky drowned on a family holiday in Cornwall. Richard was with Nicky in the water. Richard managed to get to safety, Nicky didn't. This is the story of that day. It's also the story of the intervening forty years, in which Nicky's name was rarely mentioned and the whole incident was swept away, never to be spoken of again. At the beginning of this book, Richard didn't even know the exact date of the drowning or the name of the specific beach, because no one ever talked to him about it. Furthermore, after the funeral, Richard's parents took everyone else back to Cornwall to carry on with their holiday. The subtitle of this book is 'A Family Tragedy', and truly it is. It's not just the desperately moving story of a lost boy, it's an exploration of how we deal with grief and loss, and how the failure to acknowledge suffering, not only in others but more importantly in ourselves, can stay with us for a lifetime. I rarely choose non-fiction, but this book, as painful as the subject matter was at times, has made me want to read more.
I never quite got gripped by this book but plodded through it expecting to at some point. I can imagine that it was a quite cathartic experience for Richard Beard to write following his 9 year old brother Nicky drowning in 1978 when the family were on holiday in Cornwall. The Mum, Dad and remaining three brothers just didn't talk about the subject again until Richard decided that he wanted to know more about what happened so started investigating the incident when in his late 40s.
The book is basically Richard doing detailed research work to find anything about Nicky and the surrounding and conditions on that fateful 1978 day. This included finding family photos, Nicky's old school books and reports, talking to people who knew Nicky and who were there on the day. Also finding out about tides and the lifeboat rescue process. It was all quite detailed but didn't make for interesting reading to me. I almost think that there's another book as to why such young boys were sent to Boarding School at age 7 or 8. In fact there are numerous books already on that subject and the damaging effects it had on many young children who carry mental scars into adulthood. It seems to be quite a common thing to do (thankfully less so in 2017) for families of upper-middle classes. I was also horrified to find that the family returned back to the same spot, and even the same beach, the evening of Nicky's funeral to finish their holiday. Even swimming off the same remote beach where Nicky drowned.
There is a lot of introspection in this book by Richard about the fact that he was in the water with Nicky when he drowned but didn't save him. And seemingly, no one else jumped in either to save him. That does make me sad as Richard is analysing the situation as an adult and not a child of 11. I do hope that researching and writing this book has given Richard and his family some peace. Although I did wonder how his mother had reacted to his writing as I am not sure that her or Richard's father (now deceased) come out in the best of light at times.
With thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
When I was a kid, my grandmother died. The way I remember it, my parents never discussed it with us. I don't think we went to the funeral. One day my grandmother was there, reading me Winnie The Pooh stories before bed. The next day she was gone. Or so my little kid brain processed it, I think.
Maybe a week later, my parents decided to sneak out one night, after I was in bed. They were going to the movies, leaving me with my grandfather. But somehow I caught wind of their leaving. I stood on the balcony, screaming, "Mom, dad, don't leave me!"
I kicked up such a fuss, they came back to the house, cancelling their night out.
My mother thought this story was hilarious. Me throwing a fit. She told it a few times throughout the years, to embarrass me.
It was only much later, in therapy, that these pieces snapped together. My grandmother disappeared. And then my parents were sneaking out. I suspect I was terrified they were going to disappear too.
The above story is why this book resonated with me so much. A child drowns. A family pretends it never happened. Listening to Richard Beard describe that denial, that stoic, British, stiff upper lip approach -- it really hit home. No feelings, wouldn't be proper. Repress and carry on. Don't dwell. It reminded of my family home growing up. There was a lot of chaos and drama that we were all supposed to pretend wasn't happening in an effort to just "get along".
While Beard's story is a bit repetitive, it can't be helped. He circles the memory of his brother drowning as he tries to process both the facts and the feelings. In parts it feels like a murder mystery. What happened? Who is responsible? What could have been done differently?
He is somewhat brutal with himself. Mocking himself. He can take a detached, detective like stance with himself, even as he gets angry at himself for not having feelings. He only hints that his marriage is on the rocks because of his stoic inability to feel. I understand that his marriage is outside the scope of the book, but I would have been interested to hear more about how the trauma of the past affects him as the man he is now, and his relationships.
In the acknowledgements, he does not thank a therapist, which I thought was interesting. Because, holy cow Richard Beard, get yourself a goddamn therapist.
Tough listen. The genre is memoir. Three stars is my standard when the book is good from the victim's memories. With that said, I had a difficult time reading the physical book due to writing style. I found the audiobook on Libby, and that wasn't any better. I was able to finish. I focused in short spans on the audio.
The missing day does show the scars left on everyone when a child dies.
On August 17th, 1978 a nine year old boy named Nicholas Beard drowns at Tregardock off the English coast. He was one of four sons of Colin and Felicity Beard. After his death, his family stops speaking of the tragedy and even of the boy himself. Now forty years later, one of his brothers has done an inquest and tried to reconstruct the events leading up to and following Nicky’s accidental drowning. Through interviews, photos and artifacts from Nicky’s short life, the author is able to create a time-line of the awful day. This is one of the most unusual memoirs I’ve ever read. I was shocked by the way the family repressed all emotion and memory of the event. It was almost like Nicky had never existed. I’m glad the surviving members of his family have finally gotten to grieve their lost son and brother. It’s too bad they didn’t do it years earlier. I think the book helps bring Nicholas P. Beard back to life, so to speak, and is a nice tribute to him.
This was a good read. This memoir is about a tragedy that happened in 1978 when two young boys are swimming in the ocean and one drowned. A family that try’s to block the memory out and move forward and a boy who lives with tremendous guilty for 30 years. He now decides to piece together the day that went missing. ~absence of evidence is not evidence of absence~
** SHORTLISTED FOR JAMES TAIT BLACK MEMORIAL PRIZE, BIOGRAPHY CATEGORY**.
Oh my word, what a poignant biographical account this is! In it, the author recalls, and tries to fill in the blanks through conversations with family members and other relevant people, the events surrounding the tragic death of his 9 year old brother, Nicky, in 1978. In addition, he traces his own - and his family's - reactions to the tragedy, as well as showing how his family adheres to its personal philosophy of taking 'One More Step' and carrying on. As he collects pieces of evidence, this book becomes a cross between an exercise of catharsis and a detective case worthy of Sherlock Holmes (who makes an 'appearance' in one passage in the book). It is extremely well-written and cannot have been an easy piece of work to write, but the author has successfully compiled a more permenant memorial to Nicky than the school cricket scoreboard! Very well done, Richard Beard. I have the utmost respect for you.
What makes the book even more emotive is the fact that the front cover features the beautiful and personal family photograph of Nicky just before his death. It is a fantastic and memorable book which I highly recommend.
I didn't dislike this book, but at the end of the day, it didn't do a whole lot for me and I can't imagine it would do a lot for most readers. It read more like a book that was helpful to the author's mental health than it was really intended for an outside audience.
Most of this book focuses on Beard uncovering what happened the day his brother died. But the thing is, it's not a mystery. His little brother drowned because the ocean is stronger than a lot of people expect. The end. Most of what he uncovered were kind of unimportant details, like who were the people on the rescue crew or who called for help or at what exact time Nicky died. Again, these are the kind of details that I understand mattering to him, but as an outsider, none of them meant a whole lot to me. It just wound up being kind of dull.
The part of the story that interested me most was how the family coped with it after the fact and mostly shut down the grieving process, but that seemed secondary to the almost mystery element of what happened. I just felt a bit bored throughout this book.
I wouldn't recommend this, but I don't think it was bad, either. If you're intensely curious about a man exploring his grief, they're might be enough here to hold your interest, but there wasn't much for me.
This is a memoir and is an unusual story. It is emotional, as it flows through the thirty years after the author's brother was drowned aged nine. I felt the book related the accident and the impact that it had on others very well. The sadness came when I realised that our memories of our loved ones do blur and it seemed hard to find the 'real' ones as time passes by. As each person was asked to talk about the life and death of this young boy I wanted there to be a moment when all would be revealed. but memories are not like that and I thought the author did very well to bring it all together and have such great sensitivity and openness. A good read but not a book to make you feel happy.
The day that went missing by Richard Beard is a great yet emotional story of Beards childhood. Really enjoyed reading this one! Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for an arc copy of the day that went missing in exchange for an honest review.
The tragedy of losing a sibling at an early age is at the center of Beard's book. His family is a very-repressed 1970's type, and they actually go back to the site of the child's death and finish their holiday. In spite of the raw emotion at the core of Beard's story, I found his approach rather repetitive and almost blase. I had difficulty getting into the whole process.
This started off rather promisingly, and of course the subject matter was given in rather a heartfelt manner, but I sadly lost interest after a while. I found that on the whole, Beard's writing was fine, but there was something a little too matter-of-fact about it at times.
I don't even know where to begin with this review so I'm just going to jump in.
This is, as you would expect, a story about grief. It's written honestly, unflinchingly, bravely. Even when the author doesn't make himself come across across as very sympathetic, he doesn't shy away from it. Here is trauma in its most honest form: messy, unfair, and more often than not, making bastards of us all. I respect the author immensely for this.
More so than a story of grief, however, this is an exhausted, I would say angry expose of the ridiculous British attitude of "just getting on with it". Speaking as someone who has grown up in the UK, and who has seen this stupid attitude in action, my overwhelming emotion when I finished this book was rage. I am so angry I can barely type this review on my phone. Long outdated, the idea that the British should keep a stiff upper lip in the face of tragedy has made repressed, emotionless husks where people should be. It is a dangerous attitude that does no good -- it only exacerbates pain. This story is a prime example.
The brothers I do not blame. This is how they were taught by their parents and, in the case of the older two, how their teachers continued to encourage them to behave. The surviving brothers were children adrift in a world that suddenly made no sense after Nicky's death; they would follow their parents' example, and in the case of Richard he was also clearly repressing memories as a response to trauma. The children are blameless -- it's the adults I'm angry at.
This book is so incredible because in a way it's an apology for the fact that for 40 years, Nicky was not a person. His own parents forgot he existed. They made themselves believe he wasn't even born. He was never discussed. His name was left off of things. A family clock engraved with the names of all the children and grandchildren did not include him. His school was instructed to act as though nothing had happened, and did so. His things were left scattered in the attic, his clothing with his name tag picked out and passed down. He was erased, because two parents cared more about their good old British values to grieve for their child. The mother certainly tried, but gave up quickly under the influence of the father -- who, when dying from cancer, decided to try and write his life story and when organising all the important dates of his life and recording the dates of his children's births, left the year of Nicky's birth blank. How? How could a parent do this? Why does this country think this is the appropriate way to deal with things?
I hate to turn this review into a rant about the issues, rather than reviewing the book itself, but to me this issue and the book cannot be separated. I can't remember the last time a book has had me feeling like this. I cannot believe that more people haven't read this; that it hasn't started a national discussion on this outdated and cowardly habit that British people seem to swear by. I am filled with such a profound grief and anger for this small boy, forgotten by his own parents because they were too afraid to face their emotions. It is unforgiveable.
Perhaps I'm responding so strongly because it occurred to me while reading this book that I've experienced something similar. When I was a child I insisted I had had an older brother once; I was told I was lying. I found out when I was sixteen that I had been right, but my parents didn't want to acknowledge my brother's death because it was just too painful. They still won't discuss it. I've seen them do the same thing time and time again -- family tragedies and traumas swept under the rug, while I tried to navigate the unavoidable mess alone, a child with parents too cowardly to give comfort. The same issues were raised in this book, and it occurred to me that had I died in some tragic accident as a child, I would have been forgotten just as surely as Nicky was. But I wouldn't have had a brother to bring me back again.
I am grateful that this book exists. I am grateful that I can look at Nicky's picture on the cover, as I did many times during reading, and that I can recite facts about him; that I know things about him. I am grateful that his brother finally decided to face facts; to mourn for him. But I am so sickened to think that had it not been for this, he would have been forgotten by everyone, his parents refusing to speak of him as though he had never been born. He would have been nothing but a gravestone with years but no dates. A small memorial plaque in a lonely field. Thank god for this book, but if there is an afterlife, I hope that Nicky didn't see what his parents did to him.
Read this book, expecially if you're British -- and do not ignore the questions that might arise. Answer them instead.
As soon as I read the blurb for this book I found it so hard to believe that it was a true story, I felt compelled to read it. When the author, Richard Beard, is 11 years old, he and his family (dad, mom, and brothers Tim, Nicky and Jem, aged 13, 9 and 6 respectively) book a cottage at the Cornwell seaside for four weeks. At the end of the second week, while playing in the ocean’s waves, Nicky is swept out and Richard is unable to save him. After his funeral six days later, the family returns to the cottage to finish off the final week of their vacation, and then they spend the next forty years basically ignoring the fact that Nicky ever existed. His name is pretty much never mentioned again as the family goes into what can only be described as one of the most incredible stories of denial that I’ve ever heard. Finally, Richard decides to find out more about his lost brother and why his parents reacted the way they did.
Absolutely incredible. I mean, they went back to finish off their vacation at the rented cottage, and even went back to the beach where Nicky had drowned just a few days prior. What on earth were they thinking? Needless to say, this was a compelling read as Richard takes us through the many layers of denial as he discovers who his brother really was and why the family dealt with their grief in this way. And, finally, Richard is able to grieve for his lost brother.
Unfortunately, I didn’t like Beard’s writing style. This is a fairly short book at only 275 small-sized pages, yet it could have been edited down much more tightly. Beard likes to repeat himself… a lot. I felt like I kept reading the same phrases over and over. He also has a tendency to flip back and forth between present tense and past tense, whether or not he’s talking about 1978 or the present day, which I found a bit irritating. I realize he wanted to fully reconstruct that “missing day” to make sense of things and to honour his brother, but sometimes he went on about minor, inconsequential points (were they sitting or standing as they heard the news?) at length, which truly didn’t add anything to his story.
This is definitely a book to read if you’re interested in finding out how one family dealt with grief in what may be considered a very unhealthy manner. Just be prepared for a writing style that is a bit tedious and repetitive at times.
3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 stars
Note: the photo on the cover is that of Nicky, which Richard discovered only after he began writing this book. It was taken about one hour before Nicky drowned. How heartbreaking.
This is a complicated book as it revolves around loss and grief even though it is delayed by about forty years. So it is an unraveling of a tragic event on the coast of Cornwall on a beautiful summer's day in 1978. The Beard family is on holiday and in an instant one of the brothers drowns while on a last swim of the day. Life changes forever but then people carry on with the stiff English upper lip and no one talks about it. Not until the author who was with his brother swimming in the cove decides it is time. He goes about uncovering the event, the missing day, as if he were a coroner doing an inquest. He even refers to it this way. He does interviews, visits the important places, the holiday house, etc., and gathers articles stowed away relating to Nicky's life. He is a man on a mission and goes about his task with ferocity and determination. He wants to know why it happened and whether he had a role in it. He thinks it will help him grieve and come to terms with the tragedy. It's complicated. It's hard to watch other people grieve and question as it is so personal. What made it difficult for me is that there was still a sense of detachment, a holding back as if all those years could disappear in an instant. But who am I to judge. For me, the most poignant part is the ending as he never found the missing red trunk but instead buys a new steamer trunk, secure in it's construction and carefully layers Nicky's belongings, "the balance of Nicky's lifetime." He covers them with his few items of clothing and then lastly the manuscript of this book, and closes the lid. "This is Nicky, his life and his death, as far as we can know." His task is completed, the story is complete. Now Nicky can live on in his heart.
Meh... mostly you will just read the refrain of British have always been told keep a stiff upper lip and to keep calm and carry on and that this national characteristic that is instilled in the populace is not good for processing grief... ok... but that's not a whole book's worth of material. In part the book is a nice meditation on memory and how unreliable it can be, but this actually undercuts what Beard does when he imparts feelings of envy his vision of his 11-year-old self had for his brother Nicky. The emotional content of viewing oneself as envious and that envy being the root cause of your brother's death would be powerful, but it just felt more like a grown man who became a writer and needed something to fill the pages. While he would have had to cut a lot of material, this story would have been better as a long magazine article.
I found this compelling, both on the slipperiness of memory and on the buried trauma of a younger brother's death by drowning. The author, decades on, painfully excavates as much as can be reclaimed - literally and metaphorically an attic with scattered relics of a short life and a box of sometimes crass condolence letters. There's guilt by the bucketload, silenced grief both at home and boarding school, denial ,and the message - according to mum - of the times, 'it happened; get over it.' The most jaw-dropping moment is when having gone back to Swindon from Cornwall for the funeral - the boys didn't attend- the family returned to their holiday cottage because they had booked it..and took the boys back to the same beach. 4.5
This book is a very depressing read. A general lack of passion and expression of grief seems to be more than just the author's problem, his entire family came off as wooden sticks. The writing was dull and the author repeated himself a lot.
I was particularly aghast that the author's parents allowed their four children to go off down the beach out the parent's sight to go swimming in a place like Tregardock Beach. This beach in Cornwall is considered to be a dangerous place to swim. Yes, there are surfers there but it is not a swimming area.
Perhaps writing this book helped the author to sort through his feelings but I don't see how it would be interesting or helpful for others to read.
Nine year old Nicholas Beard, the author and narrator's younger brother, drowns during a family vacation on the Cornish Coast. During the nearly forty ensuing years, the family (his parents and three brothers) rigidly enforce an emotional blackout on the event. The drowning is not discussed, and Nicky himself is never mentioned or remembered. One is British, one buckles up and pulls oneself together. The concept of legitimate emotional trauma was not acceptable. Nearing 50, the narrator, the only one who was actually present when his brother died, decides to embark on a journey to awaken the repressed memories, and conducts what he refers to as an "inquest" into Nicky's drowning and death, but also into his life until then. Surprisingly enough, or perhaps not, both Nicky's life and death, are multi-versioned. The truth as an absolute does not exist, and as Richard Beard wisely notes, "all of our versions exist, and for the same reason: we remember as much as we can bear." Despite the narrator's thorough fact-finding process which yields the actual data surrounding Nicky's life and death, it is the gradual release of his emotional memory from its repression that reconnects the narrator to his brother and to his own trauma. Richard Beard's journey to his brother and his death is very well written, engaging and, at times, heartbreaking.