Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Books: If God is in the details, then Hello God

The strength of a character comes from the details, so I suppose the strength of a writer comes from the details. In The Great Gatsby, we don't meet Gatsby until we're well into the book - but we already know that he throws parties that he doesn't bother to attend. And we start to understand the emptiness of a man going through the motions when we see his wardrobe of unworn shirts.

The central character to Watch Me Disappear is an English marine biologist who lives in the United States, specialises in sea horses and has a daughter. The details of her life are superby written - how most of her time is spent simply watching her sea horses, how that's her safe place. How at sea she flashes back to memories of her lost friend. How she loses time occasionally - but not occasionally enough that her daughter isn't familiar with these little fits. So when details of her childhood seem to be missing, they stand out - and that's where the story comes in.

I'm not going to spoil the plot, but when Tina Humber returns to the flat Fenland of her youth, she returns to a life that, she begins to realise, she ran away from when she let her career drag her across the world. And when her adult eyes start to look at the disappearance of her friend, Mandy Baker, she starts to realise why.

The story is beautifully told, and the few confusing twists needed to get us to the end do not take away from the overall effort. Tina Humber is a superbly written character. The descriptions of her work are beautiful and the tie-in between the hypocampus sea horse and the human hypocampus mentioned towards the end of the book shows that Jill Dawson's commitment to details goes beyond what the story requires. Thus author will not let go until she has got it right.


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