A wonderful travel writer and storyteller, Horatio Clare is a master of introducing readers to worlds unknown. His books take many forms and straddle genres – he’s written memoir and children’s books, edited anthologies, and tracked swallows from South Africa to his mother’s farm in Wales. His 2014 book Down to the Sea in Ships, a record of two extraordinary voyages aboard container ships, was described by Jan Morris as ‘a masterpiece of an altogether new kind’. As a broadcaster, he’s taken listeners on sound walks for BBC Radio 3, while 2018’s The Light in the Dark chronicled his struggles with seasonal affective disorder and fluctuating mental health. The latter was perhaps a natural bridge between his travel writing and this latest work. Heavy Light is a remarkably candid record of the author’s breakdown, treatment and recovery in a psychiatric hospital, having been committed under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act.
Clare has always been frank about his mental health and all of his books are shot through with wise insights into the human condition, miraculous, murky or mercurial as it may be. Heavy Light finds him in deep waters from the start. The first chapter fizzes like a thriller until the reader starts to realise with a sickening certainty that the intrigue, derring-do and repeated scuffles are actually the phantoms of a manic mind unmoored. As the book progresses and Clare’s mania spirals, we fear for his safety and sanity alike as he flails and fabricates, testing the trust and love of family and friends to breaking point.
What comes next – the hell, recriminations, acceptance and, eventually, recovery – is a remarkable tribute both to the depths of human compassion and Clare’s extraordinary gifts as an author, witness and guide.