The Sound of Silence by Graham Clews (Book Review)
Graham Clews was born in York, England in 1942, and in this biography he first tells of a telephone conversation he had with his father in 1987, and in fact reveals this was the last time he ever talked to him. His father is ringing for the sole reason that he needs money for a defence lawyer as he has been arrested. Graham explains that he didn’t need to ask why his father had been arrested, for he knew his father was a paedophile. Three decades earlier he had found that out himself, though at the time he never even knew the term Paedophile, let alone what it meant. This opening is so strong because it pulls us straight into the truth about his father, but at the same time it also foreshadows the weight of history and familial silence that came before this significant event.
And then we go back to 1956 with Graham as an excitable thirteen-year-old kid who is about to embark upon the greatest adventure of his life. Growing up in York, it is perhaps a fantasy of any young kid at that age to up sticks and move to a more exotic sounding country, where among other things, Graham admits himself he was expecting something like the wild west, but Canada’s Edmonton seemed to come up short of that expectation, though later he will consider himself one of the lucky ones to have grown up in 1950’s Canada. It isn’t long and he feels homesickness set in. He misses his friends, even though he soon makes new ones, but I guess it would be true of anyone to feel homesick after moving away from the place that has always been called home. Graham admits that he believes all kids are tough and can handle change better than adults. And so things seem to be going okay until an event happens that changes everything. His father has a garage and they are alone as they finish up the work they are doing, but then as they clean themselves up in the toilet his father starts peeing in front of him, and let’s just say this ends up being the first time his father reaches over the line, and for his own sexual gratification, abuses his own child and then makes nothing of it once he is finished. This event obviously confused the thirteen-year-old Graham, and from this moment on the abuse continues, as does the silence.
From this point on we see how his father’s sexual abuse of his own child becomes more daring, and even less careful, for example knocking on his son’s door in the middle of the night so that Graham can unlock it, and even eventually sharing a bath with him in the middle of the day. I was surprised at how well he remembers handling the situation, mostly by either not thinking about the event once it had taken place, and even managing to lock it away in his mind, but of course we all know what untold damage that can do, even though kids are tough, as Graham explains, there is irretrievable damaged done inside, and added on top of that the sense of self-imposed guilt and shame that can come from an event that is ultimately the fault of the abuser. Graham is careful to say that his father was never violent with the sexual abuse, but he identifies that paedophiles are selfish and they will never stop once they have crossed that threshold of decency. In fact Graham does a wonderful job of illuminating just how dark that side of a person can become, even though he might be able to show himself to be a decent human being to everyone else, only the abused knows the darkening of their abusers spirit, and the deepening of that persons perversions.
Yet of course the theme of this book is about the silence of those who are abused, and Graham chose to keep quiet about his father’s abuse because he felt that was right. But to say he chose that silence is perhaps a little harsh, for there seems to be a gaping divide between wanting to tell people, and the harsh reality, or at least presumed reality of the telling someone about it and then the frenzy of scandals that would follow and most likely tear the family unit apart. Graham explains how any kid wants to keep his family together, no matter what bad stuff is going on, and he was sure that speaking out about his father’s abuse would have destroyed the family unit completely. But of course that is the silent voice of a young boy unsure of the world, and as Graham explains, he now can’t believe how naïve he was to believe that silence was the best course of action, but of course you can never go back. He tells how paedophiles rely on that silence, they rely on the shame, and of course the silence allows the abuser to carry on abusing, and to find even more victims, for their desire is a sickness, a terrible insatiable need born within them that will never stop, as Graham explains, they are and will always be a threat to society and the safety of children for as long as they live. And Graham was one of five siblings, he believed however that he was the only one that was being abused by his father, yet in the book we hear the sad revelation that he wasn’t the only one, and I guess that has only made the guilt of his silence an even heavier burden to bear and perhaps the ultimate motivation for writing this book, to warn others to the dangers of staying silent.
To summarise, I have to say that although this book’s subject matter is rather heavy and dark, it was definitely not a chore to read. Clews use of language is absolutely sublime, and his organisation of the facts was also very on point. His abusing father of course overshadows his memories of childhood, but we see more than that in this book. We see the history of a family with a secret to bear, but we also see in Clews, a heart and spirit that managed to come through this ordeal. There were memories and moments in his life that were a joy to read. I especially liked the story of him moving to Canada and the sense of adventure he felt. And of course though we cannot forget that this book is about abuse, I also really liked the end where he tells us that his childhood was for the most part an enjoyable one, and his parents did as good a job as any, if not better, and if it wasn’t for his father’s abuse, his childhood would have been just about perfect.
I recommend this book to everyone, for at its heart, this is a compelling human story that has given me a deeper understanding of the sexual abuse that can be inflicted upon children, and ultimately what it might take to stop it. I applaud Graham for having the courage to write this account, and to write it so well, with heart and dignity, with honesty and truth, and with the roaring sound of a silence finally broken.
This is my unbiased review of a book that I received for free in a Goodreads giveaway.