Sunday, 22 April 2012

Your absolute and utter best

I've just read Beth Gutcheon's Still Missing, having heard a few months ago Rachel Johnson discuss it on Radio 4's A Good Read presented by Harriett Gilbert which I came across by chance when I turned the radio on while driving.

It's a terrifying book focusing on a mother's torment when a child goes missing without a trace (in fact it was turned into the film Without a trace). The mother, Susan Selky, enters a kind of living death in which she must live in order to have the faith that her son is alive, but while he is missing she has effectively died inside. I read it very quickly, desperate to find out whether he is alive, to find out whether the mother might enter the world of the living again. It's ever so gripping, and of course made me think once again of the McCanns and the Needhams and the parents of other missing children.

But it's not just reading the book that made me think. Harriett taught me journalism at City University when I was a postgraduate and I've not seen her for a couple of years. I love it when I happen upon her on the radio, partly because she is a great presenter and was a great teacher, and partly because she has a lovely radio voice - learned, sexy, thoughtful, firm. It's a pleasure listening to her. And when I do hear her voice I often remember her saying to me a few years ago, kindly I think, about one or other article or book I had written, that she wondered when it was I was actually going to try my best at something. See, producing a book was not enough. I should, I think she was saying, produce the best possible book I can produce, write the best possible articles, think the hardest possible thoughts.

And you know what, though I doubt it's the answer Harriett was necessarily looking for, I've finally found something I really do try my utter best at. Yeah it's the kind of answer that might make you want to gag, but it's true anyway. I do try my best at being a parent, because I desperately want my daughter to be happy and kind and the type of person people want to know and for her to make the world a little better and to be inspiring and interesting and interested. It's not a special attribute - I believe (nearly) all parents share this. It's why Still Missing is so powerful, why we can read it and really feel for Susan Selky, and understand that she is both dead inside but must also stay alive. For there are loads of things that we should try our best at, and I intend to do so the next article, the next blogpost, the next book, really I do. But there is only one thing that really really matters, and it turns out I try my best at that without even having to think about it.

I got my copy of Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon second hand on Amazon but have since found out it is currently published by the lovely Persephone books whose website says: "Persephone prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women. The titles are chosen to appeal to busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial."

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