"How Not to Disappear" Clare Furniss
I have been wanting to read this book for ages and was delighted when my reserved copy at the library finally arrived! I was attracted by the cover but also I really enjoyed Furniss' previous book "The Year of the Rat" so was hopeful for her second novel!
Tackling the emotive and sensitive subject of teenage pregnancy, Furniss has written a moving story weaving the tale of Hattie together with that of her great aunt Gloria. It's a perfect balance of seriousness and humour, poignant yet uplifting.
18 year old Hattie is confident, intelligent, witty and with two very close friends, Rueben and Kat. But this summer they have both deserted her - Kat, with her possessive new girlfriend, has gone to Edinburgh and Reuben, the father of her baby, has run off to Europe "to find himself", unaware of the predicament he has left Hattie to face. Her mother is caught up in her own frenetic life of work, frequently leaving Hattie to look after her younger siblings as she avoids facing her feelings about her pending wedding with partner Carl. Hattie is left feeling a bit detached from everyone, rootless and confused as she tries to figure out how she really feels about Reuben - her best friend - and whether he truly loves her back or whether their one night together was a mistake.
With no one to turn to, jealous that her friends have gone off on adventures and can't even be bothered to reply to her emails and texts, she decides to visit an elderly relation following a bizarre phone call from a stranger ringing to inform that "Gloria" was ailing and her family ought to come and see her....... Family that neither Hattie nor her mother realised they had....
Gloria is suffering from dementia. When lucid she is sharp, down to earth, highly observant and not afraid to confront the truth of Hattie's situation. She is also sad, weighed down by her past. At first dismissive of Hattie, they then began to form an important relationship which helps both of them to reconcile themselves with the past and face the future.
This is a lovely story. Hattie is a really likeable teenager with a strong voice. She is very relatable and I really enjoyed her emails to Reuben - both the ones she deleted as well as sent! The blurring of her feelings towards Reuben capture the complexities of relationships at this stage in life. It explores motherhood, family relationships, pregnancy now and 50 years ago, memories and dementia ("the terminal illness where you get to die twice"). I found Gloria very moving. Her standoffishness to hide her real feelings of loneliness and fear, and the touching mental, emotional and physical journey the two women take together which brings them closer and helps them process their feelings adds depth and resonance to the novel. I think the novel will appeal to young adult readers as Hattie is very likeable, her sections reflective but vivid and humorous, and adults will enjoy the interplay between the two generations.
I liked the insertion of Gloria's back story alongside Hattie's and thought both voices were strong and engaging. I really liked Gloria's comments about memories, love and how we define ourselves.
"Our memories are what make us who we are. Some are real. Some are made up. But they are the stories that tell us who we are. Without them we are nobody."
I also liked the title of the book. With love - whether from the past or in the moment - you can never disappear.
I would recommend this book to readers 13+ who enjoy parallel time lines and multiple voices or stories about contemporary issues. Once again Furniss has tackled emotive and complex issues carefully with sensitive, beautiful writing without judgement or moralising. I can't wait for her next project!
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