Sceptre £7.99 (384pp) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Man Who Disappeared, By Clare Morrall
Friday 02 July 2010
A novelist in search of a syndrome, Clare Morrall seems irresistibly drawn to characters with cognitive disorders. Her Man Booker-short listed debut Astonishing Splashes of Colour featured a heroine who suffered from synaesthesia, while subsequent novels explored Asperger's and depression. In The Man Who Disappeared, her fourth novel, she examines a yet more idiosyncratic condition - a middle-aged woman seemingly entirely happy with her lot.
Kate Kendall lives in a pretty wisteria-clad house in seaside Budleigh Salterton. Life is a pleasant round of familial duties revolving around her accountant husband, Felix, and their three privately-educated children. As a couple they still hold hands on the beach and remember anniversaries – their biggest row to date has been a tiff over wallpaper choices for the study. But as wised-up readers will know, such domestic smuggery can't possibly auger well. One day, while travelling home from a trip in Canada, Kate is taken aside by airport security to be informed that her husband has gone missing, wanted on charges of money laundering and fraud. It's a revelation that shakes her to the core, forcing her to reassess her last 27 years of married life.
Stories about marital betrayal can follow any number of scenarios, but here Morrall is less interested in if or when Felix will come back, than getting to the root of what makes him tick. Replaying scenes from her marriage, Kate starts to rake over her relationship, trying to understand what happened between herself and the man she thought she knew.
When Felix fails to return home, and the joint bank account is finally emptied, Kate is forced to sell up the family home and move to a nearby council flat. The childrens' reaction to their changed circumstance is well observed. Rory, aged nine, previously a nervy boy in the habit of talking to aliens, starts to thrive at his new local school; while older sister Millie, already embarking on her own romantic misadventures, retreats further into her own private teenage world. For Kate, now employed as a lollipop lady, it takes longer to divest the badges of middleclassdom.
Although Morrall tries hard with the jargon of international crime, Felix's Interpol-by-the-sea interlude never sits comfortably with the rest of the novel. At times the author seems unsure whether she's writing a psychological thriller or a family drama. Either way, Felix's disappearance provides a useful way to examine how notions of respectability impact on matters of the heart. Refresingly, Morrall's novel doesn't turn out to be a case of adulterous mid-life flight, but the story of a man who never felt he deserved to stay.
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 3 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 4 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 5 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Spectre: Director Sam Mendes teases clips from upcoming James Bond movie
Indian Summers recommissioned: Channel 4 confirm a second series of British Empire drama
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
The Casual Vacancy finale review: Superb cast, luscious cinematography - shame about the confused ending
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut