This house has been a regular presence in my life for as long as I can remember. My heart has sunk a little every time I walk in . . .
Samantha Clark enjoyed a busy career as an artist before returning home to Glasgow to take care of the house that her parents had left behind. Moving from room to room, sifting through the clutter of belongings, reflecting on her mother’s long, sedated years of mental illness and her father’s retreat to the world of amateur radio and model planes, Samantha began to contemplate her inheritance.
A need for creativity and a desire for solitude had sprung up from a childhood shaped by anxiety and confusion. Weaving in the works and lives of others, including celebrated painter Agnes Martin and scientist of dark matter Vera Rubin, The Clearing is a powerful account of what we must do with the things we cannot know.
I am so grateful to the author for reaching out and offering me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest review. I read a lot more non-fiction than I used to, and I’m gradually realising that the books I learn the most from are those that draw upon the author’s personal experience.
It doesn’t get much more personal than the subject matter of The Clearing. After her parents’ death, the author and her brothers begin the long task of sorting out their cluttered, crumbling house. As she works, Clark reflects on the incredibly complex relationship she had with each of her parents, and, through her reflections, she generously invites the reader into her thoughts.
On the surface, this seems simple enough. But Clark’s many gifts include a burning intellect combined with a beautiful artistic sensibility, and it is the merging of these two elements that make this book something very special indeed. The prose is exquisite, artfully crafted, redolent with phrases that melt in the mouth when you say them out loud, and images that paint in vivid colours in the reader’s mind. Clark is clearly an artist with words as well as in other forms.
The delicate, pitch-perfect descriptions are matched by an intellectual rigor that swells out to include great thinkers and scientists, bringing in philosophical and scientific concepts to help illuminate her thought processes. The overall effect is stunning: it brings to mind the all-encompassing, multi-disciplinary nature of Renaissance Humanism, lead into the modern age by Clark’s comprehensive analysis of all the microscopic strands that feed into her family story. It is a story that shimmers with unseen light, that clears spaces not to fill them but to observe and respect them. The cover image, with its suggestion of both landscapes and galaxies, is a really apt visual representation of the journey I felt I was following Clark on – at once localised, personal, specific, and also universal, full of deep truths.
The agility of the author’s mind and the careful excavation of her own thoughts and feelings combine to make this an utterly unique reading experience, one that is hard for me to put into words. It feels like standing before a canvas, a huge and beautiful, intricate painting, but with the artist beside you, picking out meanings you may not have noticed, gently drawing your attention to the brushstrokes and the careful use of light. I am sure this is a book I will return to again and again – it has so much to say about art, about meaning, about how we can begin to understand not only the words of our own stories, but also the silence.
The Clearing by Samantha Clark is published by Little, Brown and is available to purchase here. The paperback will be released in March, but I personally would recommend the gorgeous, tactile hardback – it is a work of art in itself!