How Not To Disappear – Clare Furniss

Last Sunday morning I was sitting in church (as I sometimes pull myself out of bed on a Sunday to do) and I was not paying attention. (This is a common occurrence when I’m in church.) Instead, I was watching a woman I sort of know (she was paying attention) as she sang the songs and cuddled her baby granddaughter on her lap. I remember noticing her hands, as the baby grabbed onto them to try and chew them – this lady has very elegant hands, long fingers and polished nails – and I remember having an overwhelming urge to rush over and take a photograph of the small baby hands, with their chubby wrists and smooth, unblemished skin, holding onto these long fingers which show a long life well lived.

I didn’t, of course. It’s not really the done thing when one is sitting in church, but the image has stayed with me nonetheless. I wanted to capture it because it was so beautiful, and quite poignant; age and youth clinging together. It spoke of love, and respect, and the beautiful mystery of life, and the circular nature of ageing.

How Not To Disappear made me think of this mental photograph. A beautiful piece of fiction, the novel stars Hattie and Gloria, one seventeen and one much older and in the first throes of dementia. The narrative explores memory, and how memories make up who we are – and are we still who we are without our memories? It explores secrets, and the weight and impact of carrying them. It delves into pregnancy and motherhood – the fear, the love, the shame, the pressure, the questions, the sacrifices, the choices and lack thereof. The young woman and the old woman look at love and relationships – and we look at them through their eyes. In short, it’s a beautiful story, poignant and touching as my imaginary snapshot of hands.

I really loved the way Hattie and Gloria learn about life from each other; it’s not a trite, preachy novel about respecting ones elders. In fact, Gloria is gloriously rebellious (in the way I hope I am when I am old) and Hattie’s soft-focus romantic ideals about the type of elder Gloria will be are shattered somewhere in the first chapter – but as the pages turn and their relationship grows and develops, it becomes something a lot more valuable and real than any twee clichĂ©. PLUS, this book passes the Bechdel test, so that’s another reason to read it.

Simply gorgeous, and definitely recommended.

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