The Missing List – a memoir

From the back cover:

Clare Best has been haunted all her life by dark family secrets. When she agrees to help her dying father record his memoir, she embarks on an urgent quest for the truth. Which version of their life will he tell? And how will she reclaim her own story from his?

With lyricism, forensic precision and flashes of humour, Clare Best weaves together her father’s words, his ciné-film footage, her journal entries and scraps of childhood memory. This story of courage and resilience is unforgettable.

A tapestry of time – brightly coloured, beautifully orchestrated, emotionally pureAndrew O’Hagan

Memoir at its finest. Such raw beauty in the writing, and generosity in sharing how important it is to take back our own truth, even when it hurts. I held my breath through entire sections – this book is brave, moving and above all compassionate Sarah Salway

Finalist in the Mslexia Memoir Competition, 2015.

– Order The Missing List (published September 2018) here: Linen Press. Paperback £9.99. E-book £4.99. Also available on Amazon.

Read Neil Gower in The Bookseller about how he responded to The Missing List to make the cover art.

Read Clare’s interview with Catherine Smith – about writing The Missing List.

Read what Clare says about how it feels to publish this memoir on Ali Bacon’s blog.

View the panel discussion Clare took part in with Clear Lines at Waterstones Gower Street in November 2018.

Reviews of The Missing List:

‘Brave, beautiful and masterfully crafted… without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year.’ Judith Kinghorn, novelist

‘You will read this extraordinarily courageous and humane book in one sitting but wonder at the lifetime’s forbearance and incredible generosity of patience that went into writing it. The quest for love is far more valuable than the gift of redemption.’ Eleanor Knight

‘Given the pain and trauma Clare Best experienced and which she describes so vividly in The Missing List, it may seem strange to say that the work is fresh, beautiful and nourishing – but Best writes a pathway through her suffering, and her clarity of thought and skill as a writer illuminate the way. Courage and thoughtful ethics shine through on every page, creating a lucid account of working towards recovery.’ Lyn Thomas

‘This is an incredible book, full of heartbreaking bravery and the most razor-sharp poetic insights – I read it in two days, it’s so compelling.’ Nick Tigg, Slot Machine Theatre

This is one of the most challenging books I have read in many years, and it would have been even more challenging to review it, were it not for its elegance, sincerity and subtle but commanding presence. It is a beautiful, clear and precise memoir about a very dark, ugly and murky subject: child abuse of the most horrific kind, at the hands of her own father. The author reflects with the distance of more than 50 years, that ‘part of me was lost, and another part became the searcher and onlooker, listener, interpreter. I am the seer, and I’m the hearer of voices.’ Best has given the book a clearly defined, analytical structure, perhaps a safety rope to see her through writing it, or a red line that leads out of a maze of scrambled remembering and reliving parts of her childhood: Transcripts of conversations with the abuser – close to his death – recollections of places and fragments of memories are intercut with descriptions of short home movies (ciné films) shot by the abuser. They add an eerie audio-visual element to the memoir and throw the memories of what Best experienced into even sharper relief. The afterword includes a list of charges against Best’s father. It is a clinically detailed fact sheet of physical and emotional abuse, a necessary part of reclaiming a stolen childhood.’ Alexandra Loske, The Frogmore Papers no. 93, March 2019

‘Best outlines a narrative not just of horror but of survival. She emerges sane, angry but at peace. She demonstrates that abuse can come from any quarter, that its effects are terrible and longlasting, that few withstand its ravages without great damage to themselves. But most of all she shows that secrets unspoken must yield to their saying. A brilliant, courageous, moving book.’ John O’Donoghue, Viva Lewes

‘The Missing List is an astonishing achievement. In the process of caring for her father during his terminal illness Clare Best finds herself remembering the abuse she suffered at his hands. She hopes he will acknowledge what he did so that they can both achieve some closure before he dies. The story is gradually revealed through scraps of information – old ciné films, imagined lists of rules, conversations with her father, and it is exquisitely written; beautifully observed and emotionally truthful. The depth of compassion and understanding she shows towards her abusive parent, is both astonishing and moving. I even wondered what her father would have felt if he had ever been able to read this book himself. His character in all its complexity leaps from the page – as does Clare’s own personality, as a woman and as the child she was before and after the abuse. Her story is deeply engrossing, sometimes distressing but ultimately life affirming. In this battle she is the winner, not the victim.’ A Samuelson

‘Arthur Miller, with his autobiography, Timebends: A Life, committed his life memories to the page without making chronological order of them – his explanation was that that was how our minds work. Clare Best does this too. And this is what gives the reader of her memoir a complicity in her quest.’ Alison Coles, Book Oxygen (read the full review)

‘I couldn’t stop reading The Missing List. Although the abuse Clare Best describes is difficult to read, she limits these descriptive passages so the reader does not feel voyeuristic. Each brief description is such a shock within a narrative concerned with reconstructing childhood and family. So much is unknown, so much has been blocked out. But in a tragic parallel, Best’s own attempts to recall her childhood story are set against her father’s dying need to tell his – to Best. I was astounded by each of her visits to him and then drawn into the tension that these encounters cause. Importantly, aside from its value to other people who have been abused, the Missing List is beautifully written, which is a major achievement given the subject. Best has balanced the story-telling so finely – it is incredibly tense throughout, but this is always offset by her honesty, by a fragment of beauty, by a questioning of memory. The power of her grandmother’s house in Bexhill within the story is immensely sad. A letter behind a mirror is a strange and compelling symbol. The first incident of abuse Best describes so graphically is mirrored at the end, where Best delivers another powerful reminder (if we needed one) of what it means to be a child – the power imbalance here is shown so starkly. And the silence of the other participants in this scene resonates back through the book to the beginning. There are so many hints and suggestions that mirror memory and Best chills the reader with descriptions of morphine peeling back her father’s hidden layers. How Best found a way through the awful consequences of what her father did to her is a testament to her strength. I know I will be thinking about this book for a long time.’ Jackie Wills

‘The author’s achievement lies in involving the reader in her story to such an extent that she lifts her memoir into the wider realm of implicit questioning of how societies operate and how humans relationships develop.’ Matthew Stewart, Rogue Strands (read the full review)

‘This book took me on the most intense and emotional journey I have ever been through in a work of non-fiction. It is beautifully written… I reread numerous passages simply because they were so perfectly put together. The book is impossible to put down. But most of all it is the courage and compassion shown in writing so cleanly and honestly about a subject as taboo as child abuse that makes this book exceptional… uplifting and life affirming. An outstanding achievement, I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.’ Toby Marchant, Goodreads.

‘Clare describes the book as “an act of compassion for my young self”. She relies on her journal, her reflections, transcribed recordings of her father’s account of his life, and his Bolex ciné-films. The result is a montage of vignettes… What beguiled me immediately was the forensic beauty of the writing. The whole thing is composed with the ear of a poet and the eye of a detective but, crucially, never the voice of a victim. The power of this book lies in its quiet determination to make sense of the unspeakable; the key to its cover lay in painting the unseeable.’ Neil Gower, The Bookseller

‘Best questions what it means to survive… Her narrative gives hope through highlighting how one can be resilient. She shows strength and perseverance, and whilst the outcome may not have been the one she wished for or felt she needed, she eventually found her ending. Rather than her father having the last word, waiting for his apology, his acknowledgement or his time to talk about it, she took control of her narrative and chose to be the one to end it. This act seems far braver in many respects, as it takes courage to step away and be the one to break the cycle, to finally say “no”.’ Isabelle Coy-Dibley, The Contemporary Small Press (read the full review)

‘I’ve just read a book I couldn’t put down, one that I think will change lives. Clare Best writes the story of her dad’s dying. She weaves together her reflections on the visits, coping with his deteriorating health as cancer takes hold, the clips from the audio he asked her to record and her transcripts of the cine film she is re-watching at home, of her childhood… She is waiting, hoping, dreading, anticipating, that now, finally, on his death bed, he will acknowledge the sustained and comprehensive sexual abuse he submitted her to… Hoping that he will say sorry, that he will acknowledge the crimes which had remained un-prosecuted, un-named, that he will explain, take ownership, take back the weight of the crimes so she no longer has to carry them. With each visit, Clare Best excavates memories and parts of herself which have remained buried with the abuse trying to find a new coherent narrative of herself that overcomes some of the trauma.’ Julie Leoni (read the full piece on her blog)

‘This is a memoir that is a tribute to its author; her honest telling of her incredibly brave, and ultimately therapeutic journey into her past.’ Jenny Gorrod, DURA (Dundee University Review of the Arts) (read the full review)

‘This book is an astonishing achievement. It is so beautifully-written, so thoughtful and precise, that the horrors of abuse strike one anew, afresh, as if hearing of them for the first time. We have heard and read so much about child abuse, that we run the risk of becoming numbed and hardened to the appalling realities of it. So it is incredible that Clare Best has, in this quiet, unusual, devastating memoir, found a way to make us remember exactly how we felt, the very first time we discovered that there are some people who abuse their children. If this makes it sound hard-going, think again. This book is a complete page-turner. I read it in two sittings, and was desperate to get back to it in between times. It is – unbelievably, given the subject matter – a light, almost poetic read. I will re-read it soon. The fragmented style brilliantly suits the subject matter, and I applaud the writer for not trying to find easy answers. Life is complicated, abusers are complex, our relationship with our parents are compromised and unbelievably difficult to unravel. But despite this, to speak one’s truth, to say, this is what happened and this is how I feel about it, is the greatest power the abused person has. Bearing witness is what this book does, absolutely brilliantly.’ Beth Miller, novelist

‘The more I think about The Missing List the more remarkable I think it is. It is of course a compelling, sensitive and perceptive record of abuse and I read it at first feeling shocked and upset that Best had to suffer such treatment. I was then gradually struck by many other things – the brilliant way she has organized it, taking us through the months of her father’s illness and gradually filling in what she recovers of her past as memories surface, drawing also on the ciné films. The reader shares and feels her sense of discovery and growth. With extraordinary skill, Best simultaneously shows her relationship with her father (the need she felt to have a relationship with him) and, as she recovers or is able to put it into words, the effects the childhood abuse had on her. The World According to my Father lists underline his very set and prejudiced ideas and they are witty and ironic. Best’s presentation of her father is extraordinary because although his monstrous behaviour makes me, and I am sure other readers, feel fury, she also presents his early life with compassion and shows different sides of him in his adult life which is generous, and important too because it underlines just how hidden abusive behaviour, especially towards children, can be. There is another element in the book which marks it as a work of literature and that is the quality of the writing which is particularly striking in the descriptive/meditative passages. These are really beautifully written, insightful pieces – for example p. 56 the piece about the jewellery box which begins with ‘I learned to put things in containers and the containers in other containers. To hold things safe and private.’ Another is the passage about books which begins on p.157 and there are many others. These also tell us more about Best who comes over as a strong, purposeful person. The book should be very helpful to anyone who has suffered sexual abuse as a child and it ought to be read by all professionals supporting children and adults who have suffered this kind of abuse. I am sure it will also speak to many others and I am very glad to have read it. Of course it is a wonderful example too of how therapeutic writing can be.’ Myra Schneider

 

The Missing List by Clare Best