Review – The Man who Disappeared by Clare Morrall

This is one of the TV Book Club’s Summer Reads selection and one which I was pleased to see.  I have read two of Morrall’s previous novels, “ Astonishing Splashes of Colour” and “The Language of Others”, both of which examined characters on the periphery of society, one with synaesthesia and one with Asperger Syndrome.  I enjoy the quirkiness of her novels, their introspectiveness and total lack of showiness.

In “The Man who Disappeared”, Felix Kendall is the one on the outside looking in, standing on the pavement gazing longingly at real life portraits of family life in lit front rooms, a family life he yearns for having been orphaned at an early age.  He’s as unreadable as the sphinx which perhaps explains why his wife Kate and his children remained blissfully unaware of his involvement in a money laundering scheme – the discovery of which leads to Felix disappearing without a trace, his family left to pick up the pieces.

This isn’t an in your face, action thriller, quite the opposite – man vanishes, wife has to struggle on with all the usual humdrum chores of life.  In this tightly knit narrative, we see the after effects of Felix’s disappearance, especially those which impinge on his family not just in material but also in emotional terms.  How well do you ever know someone?  There aren’t any great exaggerations/dramatic scenes at play here – it’s all focussed on people like Kate who discovers she never really knew the man she worshipped and how unsettling that must be in every respect. 

“Was he ever the man she’d thought he was?  It now seems as if he was little more than a model of Action Man, designed to bend and adapt to all circumstances…He was a blank space, inviting creativity, a man for all seasons.”

Forced to downsize home, school, friends, everything from their previous life the family are put through the mill.  Yet, in the midst of this zooming in on the family left behind, there are some telling insights into Felix too and why he felt compelled to disappear.  Whilst he doesn’t win us over entirely, he doesn’t emerge as the arch-villain of the piece either – a testament, I feel to the depth and skill of Morrall’s characterisation.  It’s a sad, sad situation (sorry, Elton..) to which there is no easy remedy and sorry doesn’t go anywhere near. 

The ending of the novel doesn’t leave us feeling unrealistically upbeat but perhaps more resigned to the fact that life isn’t plain sailing  for any of us as Kate realises later on,

“Nobody saunters through life on a clear, straight road with no red lights, roundabouts or traffic jams.”

This is a quiet, understated novel with many hidden layers – just like the people in our lives…

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8 Comments

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  2. Iris says:

    I like that this is not so much a thriller as a more realistic look at life. It looks really interesting.

  3. I’m hoping to read this before I watch the TV Book Club show (I’ve recorded it :-) ). I like the fact it has lots of hidden laters. I hope my library gets a copy soon – someone should have been organised enough to order copies before the show was aired!

  4. lovelytreez says:

    Iris, I’m beginning to think it might not appeal to a lot of folk in the current economic climate where people are experiencing economic hardship through no fault of their own whereas here it was a case of fraud.

  5. lovelytreez says:

    Jackie, I ended up buying a copy as my library was rather slow. We went today to sign up the children for the Summer Reading Challenge and it had just arrived in for me – oh well, it’s on the main shelves for anyone to choose now!

  6. Violet says:

    Oh, no. :) Another author I am going to have to put on the TBR list. Morrall’s previous novels sound intriguing. I have a bit of a fascination with synaesthesia. You do read some interesting books, Teresa. :)

  7. admin says:

    Violet, I think this is more “commercial” than her previous novels. I do like well constructed, believable quirky characters….now what does that say about me???

  8. Nymeth says:

    I have Astonishing Splashes of Colour on my tbr pile and suspect I should move it up…

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