Posted by: chartroose | June 25, 2008

Watch Me Disappear

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.

Watch Me Disappear is imbued with an appealing (and disturbing) dreamlike quality as the narrator, Tina Humber, recalls events that happened in her childhood.  Tina, who suffers from epilepsy, is an unreliable narrator due to her illness, so I was never sure if her memories were basically true or fragments of past events that got all mixed-up in her head.  This is one of the most fascinating aspects of Watch Me Disappear.  What is real?  What is embellished?  Our memories are murky at the best of times, and some of Tina’s memories were so awful that they may have been altered quite a bit so that she could deal with her nightmarish past.

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:



  1. […] Watch Me Disappear “Girls always want sex, I realized at once.  Even when we said we … strong influence the media has on nearly every aspect of a child’s life. […]

  2. Those seahorses are super-cool! From your blog title, I thought you were going on vacation or something, lol.

  3. I also read Kristy’s review of this book way back when, and became interested in Watch me Disappear. After reading your review I am _really_ interested. This sounds like a very good book!

    And the seahorses are cool!

  4. Hurrah, glad you enjoyed the book Chartroose! But please, feel free to keep Posh Spice, we Brits don’t want her either.

  5. This one is going on my list right away – sounds quite good. And I loved the seahorse pictures.

  6. The Brits started Mamma Mia! They have that, too. A random fact I learned from a Brit while I was honeymooning in Las Vegas.

  7. Thank you everyone!

    Eva, I’ll be lucky if I’ll be able to travel to Pueblo this summer! So many of my clients are wanting attention that there are some days that I feel like I don’t even have time to breathe. It seems like the librarian’s job has changed from book person to web instructor. Plus, I’m looking at building a satellite electronic library up north. I guess there’s no rest for the wicked.

    Myrthe–Good, I’m glad you decided to read it. I’ll be interested in finding out what you think of it. I’m heading over to your website right now…

    Kirsty–There is something off-kilter about Victoria. What is it? Did you know she has admitted to NEVER reading at all? Maybe that’s her problem.

    Verbivore–I’m certain you’ll like it. It’s not action-packed, but it does make you think.

    Trish–I didn’t know that! I’m kind of a closet Abba fan. Don’t tell anyone!

  8. You can tell the seahorses by the eyeballs…

  9. Looks like popcorn shrimp to me. Pass the tartar sauce.

  10. Care, I guess it’s hard to disguise an eyeball.

    Lisa — You’re mean!

  11. (hands lisa the tartar sauce)Want’s some malt vinegar, too?

    Seriously, though… This book looks like an uncomfortable and compelling read. I will have to put it on my wishlist.

    and to answer your question about my reader classification… I border on Book Junkie, occasionally forgetting to shower and eat while engrossed in a good book 😀 Plus, as Mt. TBR can attest, I have an almost OCD thing about getting more books than I can read. At my current speed of read, it will take me about two years to finish just what I have now if I never get another book (fat chance of THAT ever happening!)

  12. Hey Koolaid, I have upwards of 300 books on my TBR list(s).
    I figure it’ll take me about 6 years to get through all of them, and that’s only if I read just the TBR’s and avoid all other reading at all times. We know that’s not going to happen!

    I’m thrilled to find a Kool new book blogger! You’re going on my blogroll right now!

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