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Dawson, Jill - 'Watch Me Disappear'
Hardcover: 336 pages (Mar. 2006) Publisher: Sceptre ISBN: 0340822988

Jill Dawson's new book was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award and was also chosen for the long list of the Orange Prize. It describes a short experience of Tina Humber, a marine biologist, who - after twenty years absence, is unexpectedly invited home from America to attend her brother's wedding in Ely.

She reluctantly leaves behind her research into seahorses (a fascinating study - although nothing to do with the story - I would have welcomed a lot more.) She also leaves behind her husband and daughter, Poppy. "It's only for three days," she says. Poppy is ten years old, the same age as Tina's best friend Mandy Baker, who disappeared one summer and was never seen again.

Just recently a disturbing coincidence happened during a working holiday in Malaysia, when, snorkelling with her husband and Poppy, she has a vision of Mandy Baker floating in the sea with them - bloated and shocking. She hadn't thought of Mandy in years - she says to her: "What are you doing here?" Her husband, Dean - who is also her doctor - suggested that it might have been a return of her 'aura' - as he calls it - briefly reappearing. He successfully prescribed medication for this fifteen years ago.

Tina's embarrassing symptoms first presented when she was ten - the summer that Mandy disappeared - and unconsciously she begins to connect the two incidents - but Dean diagnoses a medication 'rethink'. Consequently, her brother's telephone invitation to his wedding in England, and persuading her to accept is perplexing - he really wants her there - he says.

The culture shock of Tina's return to the Fens, plunges her directly into her past. They had not been a close family; they disapproved when she avoided her father's funeral - their old home had been demolished, but nobody had thought to tell her, so the reunion was not exactly a celebration.

She remembered the familiar long straight roads to nowhere - "God's snooker table", her mother had said - with "the sense that the buildings were just rolled out like balls until they came to a halt" - it was the landscape of her past where there was "all sky and hardly any earth". It closes round Tina, until she vividly remembers when it was the only place she knew, and when it was her entire universe.

Mandy's disappearance is gradually researched - through clues from her brother's remarks, and Tina's own adult analysis of her childhood memories. With the slow interpretation of that long summer and the unwelcome suspicions, the reader gradually recalls a recent summer, when two ten-year-old girls were missing for several days in nearby Soham. While not exactly a thriller, WATCH ME DISAPPEAR is a rich and disturbing story, beautifully written leaving many questions unanswered - but it is certainly scattered with clues.

Mary Wilde, England
May 2006

last updated 23/03/2008 20:47