Winner of the PEN/Ackerley Prize 2018. On a family summer holiday in Cornwall in 1978, Richard and his younger brother Nicholas are jumping in the waves. Suddenly, Nicholas is out of his depth. One moment he's there, the next he's gone.
The reader is carried along on the twists and turns of the inquest, from the basics (the date, the beach, the rental house) to Beard’s ineffectual research (he loses his map, interrupts during interviews) to the profound (the discovery of a lost story), so that the book is not only a memoir but a chronicle of how lost memories can be recovered. It is a memoir that reveals the mechanism of the form itself ... [Beard] puts forth definitions and psychological theories of repression and disassociation that may seem, at times, overdone, or heavy-handed — even if they later prove useful because they describe almost perfectly the remarkable story the author will discover about the days following Nicky’s death ... If the beginning is dense with theory and fact gathering, the later part of the book swells with meaning and revelation.
An excruciating read ... Beard’s book has all the required elements of a great memoir — a compelling story, deep introspection, fine writing and an unflinching quest for factual and emotional truth. This haunting book is a profoundly moving study of memory, denial and grief.
As much as an account of a death, this is a portrait of a family ... a touching, painful disquisition on memory and forgetting and the tendrils that tie us to the past. It is also a sad indictment of the private school culture still prevalent in the late 70s, which believed that only by squashing emotion could true character be formed ... a memorable addition to the growing collection of memoirs on loss and grief.