Monday, 4 January 2016

How Not to Disappear, Clare Furniss

Pages: 406
Publisher: S&S
Release Date: 28th January 2016
Edition: UK proof, review copy

Other Titles by this Author: The Year of the Rat

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.

Hattie’s summer isn’t going as planned. Her two best friends have abandoned her: Reuben has run off to Europe to “find himself” and Kat’s in Edinburgh with her new girlfriend. Meanwhile Hattie is stuck babysitting her twin siblings and dealing with endless drama around her mum’s wedding. Oh, and she's also just discovered she's pregnant with Reuben’s baby.

Then Gloria, Hattie’s great-aunt who no one previously knew even existed comes crashing into her life. Gloria’s fiercely independent, rather too fond of a gin sling and is in the early stages of dementia. Together the two of them set out on a road trip of self-discovery – Gloria to finally confront the secrets of her pasts before they are wiped from her memory forever and Hattie to face the hard choices that will determine her future…

Non Pratt’s Trouble meets Thelma and Louise with a touch of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Clare Furniss’s remarkable How Not to Disappear is an emotional rollercoaster of a novel that will make you laugh and break your heart.

How Not to Disappear is just as emotional, warm and life-affirming as Clare Furniss’ debut, The Year of the Rat.

Hattie and Gloria’s intertwined stories are delivered in a soft, slow prose style that doesn’t rush you. It takes the entire novel for Hattie to open her eyes to reality of being pregnant, the truth of the baby’s father and the fact that she has to make a choice, and there is no guarantee of which will be the better one. Gloria tells her sad and heart-breaking story to Hattie in starts and bursts, as often as she can handle the pain of reliving it, ending in Whitby where she promised her story ended. I have to admit that How Not to Disappear did feel a little slow at times and I often felt like I had been reading for ages and not made much progress, but it was so worth it.


The parallels and extreme differences between Gloria and Hattie’s stories, divided by 60-odd years, are fascinating to explore. As Gloria tells her story we find out that she too got pregnant when she was young and unmarried, and it was the 50s so it was a source of shame in her family and her community. I was both horrified and absorbed by Gloria’s recollection of the home she was sent to for the final three months of her pregnancy and the first three months of her baby’s life, the restriction, the isolation and the lack of choice. While it was heart-breaking, it connected Gloria and Hattie what either expected and it was so lovely, especially as Gloria battled the early stages of Alzheimer’s, desperate to preserve her memories before they disappear.


I really loved getting to hear from Gloria as well as from Hattie. Every so often, at the end of a chapter Gloria pops in, taking us back to her teens and telling us her story, but also her present day thoughts, her confusion and secret fears and feelings. It was a really poignant insight into the early stages on dementia straight from the source; it really demonstrated the cruelty of the disease and the person wrapped inside of it. it was subtle but powerful and I really, really enjoyed reading Gloria’s chapters.

How Not to Disappear is another beautiful novel from Clare Furniss. It talks of love, family and the defining nature of memories in a way that it completely pitch-perfect.

Thanks to S&S for the review copy.


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