There's a William Morris poem, 'Love is Enough' that I particularly dislike - more now that those first 3 words are stuck on all sorts of Morris & Co merchandise. Love is not always nearly enough however much we'd like it to be. I don't know if Samantha Clark would share my feelings about this - I should ask her - but her brilliant, dark, difficult, hopeful, and honest book illustrates exactly why that phrase pisses me off so much.
I've had 'The Clearing' since November, I started it then, but for a few reasons, it felt very close to the bone and not the right time to read it. Now I have and I'm glad I waited until we'd all been vaccinated and can make tentative plans again.
It's a memoir of art, family, and mental health - when Clark's parents die, she and her brothers have the job of clearing the house they lived in for 45 years, she also needs to reconcile herself to her past and her mother's mental health issues which had shadowed much of their lives.
There might be more books like this about the process of grieving than I realise, but I don't often come across them. The last one I read was Helen Macdonald's 'H is for Hawk', which spoke about the sudden loss of a beloved father which hit me hard enough at the time but 'The Clearing' is something else. It's the awkward conversation where we admit that not all is well, that we've failed to love or love enough, or are forced to accept that love is not enough. That families are frequently unhappy through sheer bad luck.
Samantha's mother's illness starts when she's a young child, young enough not to have clear memories of who this woman was before she became trapped by anxiety and fear, closed in on herself, and a burden to her children and husband. It's full of the everyday grind of trying to protect people you also have to protect yourself from and the kind of conversations that we rarely have openly. they're also the kind of conversations we should be having, and fortunately, there's a lot of other things in here about art, and ways of seeing, light, hope, and love to balance the darker segments.
'The Clearing' didn't get the attention it deserved when it came out due to Covid, which is really a shame. It wasn't the easiest book for me to read, but it was a really helpful one, and on both counts, this is because of her honesty which I'm grateful for. If I've made it sound like a bleak book, it isn't - there's a lot of beauty here as well as hope, and really the best thing is to seek this book out for yourself and give it the once over. It's out in paperback now and really should be being shouted about from the rooftops as something special.