Just three years after Going as Far as I Can–Duncan Fallowell’s account of an ill-starred visit to New Zealand – comes thishandsome hardback, in which the ever-characterful author fails entirely to disappear from his prose. It’s not about a particular trip, but How to Disappear is asmucha travel book as To Noto,Fallowell’s 1989 record of a car journey to Sicily, or OneHot Summer in St Petersburg, his 1994 account of a Russian affair.
It ranges from Malta to India to Britain across three decades. “Sailingto Gozo”, an extension of To Noto, finds our herosetting sail from Catania to Malta on a whim, drawn as usualby the planet’s backwaters: “I…don’t want to discharge where all the rest have discharged”.
Gozo – erstwhile Mediterranean pinprick of British colonialism – suits nicely. Fallowell heads for the Duke of Edinburgh hotel, a cobwebbed relic boasting a mounted letter of thanks from Winston Churchill’s secretary. He stays until thebooks run out – at which point, by the magic of editing, we accompanyFallowell on a climb of the Nilgiri Hills (Tamil Nadu) in pursuit of one Bapsy Pavry, “Dowager Marchioness of Winchester”, nonagenarian social climber and personifiedpostscript of Empire.
Bapsy leads to the Isle of Eigg, owned by dilettante German artist “Maruma”. Isolated Eigg turns out to be theoneplace you can’t meet its owner, one of those people “who stand you up or cut you dead, and then express surprise if you’re put out or hurt”. Maruma is too frightened to own his own kingdom.
The fourth chapter starts in 1979, and follows another “misfit”, Alistair Graham,whomFallowellmeets in a pubinNew Quay, Wales. Graham turns out to have been the model for Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited, a discovery which hooks Fallowell for 60 pages (and 30 years) of fine intrigueandexcavation.
In the final episode the author finds himself carrying a white cyclamentoKensington Palace after the death of Princess Diana. For all his protests, the scene struck this reader as too mundane – until the comparisons to Cleopatra in her funeral barge… How to Disappear is magical, originalandanunforgettable read: vintage Fallowell.
Order for £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030