Jill Dawson, 2006, 260 p.
A few months ago, I read Kirsty’s insightful review over at Other Stories and knew I had to read this novel. It was hard to locate a copy to borrow, because Colorado public libraries don’t own it. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to find contemporary British novels in the U. S., and I’ll bet it’s because we think we’re better than they are. I mean, come on, what do the English have but the monarchy and Big Ben and cricket? America is far superior. We have Starbucks and Wal-Mart and “High School Musical.” (Notice how all of our great institutions and entertainments are capitalized)? We even have David Beckham now, although the Brits can take Posh Spice (and her strange breasts) back, and the sooner the better!
Ms. Dawson is highly regarded in her native inferior country, and I can see why. She writes very well. She was nominated for the Orange Prize in 2001 for Fred & Edie and lost out to Kate Grenville. Perhaps someday I’ll get around to reading Fred & Edie or one of her earlier novels.
Childhood definitely has dark undertones because kids are not always the sweet little darlings we like to pretend they are. Oh no, they can be sneaky and nasty and treacherous. Even though adults are loathe to admit it, young children are sexual creatures, and Watch Me Disappear focuses on the burgeoning sexuality of little girls as they approach puberty. It is also a novel about pedophilia, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Tina has her first sexual experience when she’s twelve with a pervert named Russell. Her perceptions about sex are terribly skewed due to her exposure to pornography and women’s magazines that declare that women should always be ready and should always enjoy sex:
“Girls always want sex, I realized at once. Even when we said we didn’t, we did, after a while. If we didn’t feel like it, we could be persuaded unless we were frigid…. Especially girls in uniforms (nurse, teacher, waitress, hotel maid), they were most likely to be nymphos, quite filthy in what they were hoping for.” (pp. 116-117)
This is so messed-up! I wonder how many gullible young girls (and boys) actually feel this way about female sexuality. Probably more than we’d like to consider, due to the strong influence the media has on nearly every aspect of a child’s life.
In addition to being victimized by a sexual predator, Tina also has to deal with the disappearance of her best friend, another twelve-year old girl named Mandy Baker. As the novel progresses, Tina begins to remember more and more about the events leading up to Mandy’s disappearance and realizes that Mandy was herself the victim of a predator, and the predator is…hey, I’m not going to tell you that!
The more I think about it, the more I appreciate this novel. Ms. Dawson did a great job of conveying many of the more sordid aspects of childhood and family life and our so-called “civilized” societ(ies). Watch Me Disappear further supports my belief that we are not really civilized, and we never will be.
P.S–I also learned something really cool from this novel. Tina was a marine biologist studying pygmy seahorses. Pygmy seahorses are like chameleons; they can change color and blend in with any scenery in order to ward off predators (great symbolism, huh)?
See if you can spot the seahorses in these photos: