Samantha Clark (Little, Brown, £14.99)

The “clearing” in the title of artist Samantha Clark’s memoir has a double meaning, referring to both the clearing-out of her family home after her parents’ deaths and a clearing in the sense of an empty space.

Clark’s mother and father lived for 45 years in a “crumbling Victorian beauty” in Glasgow’s West End. The family moved there in 1970, when Samantha was three, at which time the area was run-down and blackened with soot. The street is gentrified now, but inside the house it was a very different story.

Not long after they moved in, Clark’s mother was stricken by mentally illness. Fearful, suspicious, controlling and shrouded in a medicated fog, she became a stranger to the rest of the family. Clark moved out at the first opportunity, to go to art school, but her father lived the rest of his life as a prisoner of her illness, looking after her while holding down a job as a BBC sound engineer. Under the strain, he grew surly with her and withheld affection – as did Clark, to her lasting regret. The breakdown of their relationship is reflected in the state of their home after decades of neglect. The house is full of “chronic sadnesses”, she writes, “and for as long as I can remember my heart has sunk a little lower every time I walk in”.

As she rightly says, losing one’s parents and clearing out their house is a rite of passage. It’s a time when we can find ourselves reinterpreting the story of our life, even finding that it is about something other than it seemed. Mundane objects can acquire a new symbolic power, while the most certain, solid things are revealed to have been ephemeral all along.

The purge of her childhood home forces Clark to stand back and try to salvage some meaning from her relationship with her parents before she can move on to the next phase of her life. As an artist with a passion for science, she finds metaphors in cosmology to help her come to terms with it all. She considers the outmoded belief in the substance known as ether, which was once thought to permeate space, in research into the electromagnetic spectrum and, more recently, in dark matter – all of which convince her that the meaning she’s looking for is in the space between her memories rather than the memories themselves. The realisation that space is not just an empty void but also a medium which connects things to one another is her key to making peace with her past and learning to understand her mother and forgive herself.

As an artist, Clark is adept at dealing with metaphors and symbolism, and her forays into science and metaphysics feel like natural, unforced extensions of her grief and guilt, clarifying rather than obfuscating the path she has found through this turbulent phase of her life. Readers who have been through similar experiences will find much in this sensitive and articulate memoir which they can identify with and draw solace from.