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Hide and Seek

Clare Sambrook

Hide and Seek

Author:Clare Sambrook
Publisher:Canongate Books

By Emily Flake | Posted 10/5/2005

A straightforward novel about a terrible thing, Hide and Seek is a compelling and difficult read. The plot concerns the disappearance of a little boy, Daniel, as told by his older brother, Harry, who loses track of him during a badly supervised trip to Legoland. Harry is 9—old enough to be charged with keeping an eye on a 5-year-old, but nowhere near old enough to bear the blame for losing him, and certainly not old enough to distinguish between the two.

In the opening chapters, Sambrook sketches a quick portrait of a loving, comfortable family. Not so perfect as to be bland, but rather a family full of joy, where the raucous bear of a father is a surgeon, the well-dressed, fun-loving mother is a newspaper columnist, and the two boys, Harry and Daniel, go to sleep knowing they are safe. Sambrook does a startling thing in constructing the disappearance we already know is coming—there’s a fake-out where it seems some other child has disappeared, and a momentary sense of reprieve when he is discovered. When David really does disappear a few pages later, it’s like having a bucket of ice water thrown at you right after you’ve put on a cozy sweater.

The next 24 hours are agonizing. The next morning, as Harry wakes and slowly assimilates that his brother has been gone for too long, is even worse. Harry’s family is, effectively, over. Already trapped deep in his guilt over losing his brother, Harry is further isolated by his own grieving parents who, in the depth of their incomprehensible sorrow and worry, are more or less incapable of caring for him. When Harry eventually goes back to school, the isolation is even worse. The other children give him the wide berth given to victims of tragedy among the very young. His clothes are dirty, his hair unwashed. He is an outcast.

Toward the end of the book, things do get a tiny bit better for Harry and his family, but they get a whole hell of a lot worse first. Sambrook, to her credit, doesn’t play their sorrow for cheap, exploitative tears. She simply delineates, through Harry’s eyes, the slow crush of time passing after something happens to rip a family apart. Somehow, everyone has to go on living with this great, ragged hole in them. When Sambrook describes her characters’ failure to go on, the way they stumble and flounder in the wake of this open-ended tragedy, she doesn’t do it as a voyeur. She creates an utterly believable little boy telling us the story of an unbelievable thing that happens every day.

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