Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review - How To Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits by Duncan Fallowell

Duncan Fallowell
Adult warning: enlargeable naked author pic below. Don't panic!

July 19, 2012: News - Duncan Fallowell wins PEN/Ackerley Prize for Memoir for How to Disappear.

Is Duncan Fallowell’s seventh book How To Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits his actual life story? True, he confesses on p236 to an impressive 40 ‘sexual partners’ in the month following Princess Diana’s death, ‘including a group of women in a naturist Jacuzzi in Brighton.’ And certainly he liberally seeds us with tantalising glimpses of private multi-generational Duncan, including the nosey little boy whose first instinct was always to boldly go and duff up any mystery. But be clear: this is no autobiography.

It is instead something much more… typical. It is, for the dorky genre-spotters, a mongrel private parts book - ‘part memoir, part travelogue, part biography,’ to quote his unusually accurate latest publisher Ditto Press. In other words, How To Disappear is not unlike, in form and style, his other classic private parts books To Noto, St Petersburg, ‘New Zealand’ (Going As Far As I Can): each a brilliant self-portrait of the feral Duncan Fallowell on location, as spotted in the looking glass of adored or maligned travelled nation.

Is he then a narcissist whose World Atlas serves exclusively as his mirror? Well, I’ll come back to that.

Let’s just not get ahead of ourselves. There’s the business of the cryptic title: How To Disappear. The early dread threat of a self-help book from California soon gives way to compelling true-life stories of strangeness: each of the four of the five long pieces comprising this book cradles a social Houdini, a personality once great or associated with greatness, who has performed a public disappearing act and now lurks shyly in the shadows awaiting (willing or unwilling) rediscovery by Fallowell.

Will force be necessary to open up these exotic clams? These misfits? Part of the joy of this book lies in wondering whether.

There’s reclusive Alastair Graham who was Evelyn Waugh’s ex-boyfriend; and the elusive social climber Bapsy Pavry (aka Lady Winchester); not forgetting the absent Maruma who bought the alcoholic Isle of Eigg; and who could forget dead Diana? DF himself ‘disappears’ in ‘Sailing To Gozo’ where a ubiquitous, faintly menacing stranger haunts Fallowell’s way on a quaint island yester-world.
The feral DF: click to enlarge

Like the little boy he once was, DF the man is first drawn to mystery or it is drawn to him. Not any mystery, mind. The mystery is usually well-connected and/or old world glamorama. And if his overriding instinct is to dispel mystery then his fix is to be found in the tricky process of unravelling it.

Take the case of Alastair Graham, for example. Fallowell first chances on the old dipso in a pub in New Quay and only later discovers who he is (or was) precisely. Sherlock Holmes himself would be impressed by the lengths to which Fallowell goes to track down witnesses for enlightening demystification: awe-inspiring. In the case of poor old Bapsy, who spent her life in posh hotels hustling for royal party invitations, Fallowell’s decades-long quest begins with the discovery of her potted bio in a book in India: he’s hooked by her sad eyes in the accompanying photo, he must meet her!

Fallowell’s dazzling analyses and asides (the book could be subtitled, But I Digress…) do not spare his own primal motivation: ghosts of a sort, such as the subjects of his book, absorb him. He is drawn to ‘the disquieting state in which someone is neither present in one’s life nor absent from it.’ He is the ghostbuster in the ‘abyss which can open up between being here and not being here.’ In his Bapsy piece, the spectre metaphor is bettered by reality when Fallowell has what could be an actual supernatural experience. He remains agnostic on what it is; but to risk ridicule from literary followers of the atheistic faith by writing about it at all is most admirable.

Fallowell’s ghosts come in all shapes and sizes and dead places sometimes tickle his inner Madame Arcati. He adores Pompeii as a zombified still of disinterred pagan sexuality while sluttish ever-dying Venice is subject to such a fantastic Fallowell flogging (a ‘desexed city’) that doges in the Roman Catholic hell must be planning revenge should he ever convert.

As ever, Fallowell seduces with an electric prose style which straddles knowledge high and street like a whore plugged in to a well-stocked Kindle. Why else would I want to read about some sad old snob like Bapsy but to relish the vervy manner in which he compassionately grants what eluded her in life: the right kind of attention. Pathetic she may have been but Fallowell’s mockery is only very faint: he observes the human constant in her, the disappointment that urged her pointless epic life.

Certainly no narcissist (to return to my question above) ever spent as much time preoccupied with how others tick as Fallowell. Beautifully packaged in art-worked hardback, How To Disappear is a beyond-fabulous wallowing in weird people in wonderful places - magical and mesmerising. Oh, and very gossipy, too.

 
How To Disappear: A Memoir for Misfits by Duncan Fallowell.

Published by Ditto Press
on 7 September 2011.

To buy a copy click here.

105 comments:

Ciaran Rehill said...

He is skinny, is he too poor to afford food?

The Lady said...

Sounds absolutely delicious. I don't think I've ever seen Madame so excited. Is Susan Hill mentioned in labels for a reason?

Madame Arcati said...

Thank you poppet. Susan plays a fleeting part in DF's book which I forgot to mention. A typical Aquarian. Flighty.

Anonymous said...

Cripes! I've just spilt coffee on my keyboard thanks to the picture enlargement, wasn't expecting that. You wouldn't get this in the TLS.

Anonymous said...

Crikey . . . they'll have to invent a new prize, seems the Nobel wouldn't be good enough

Anonymous said...

Is Fallowell an Aquarian you mean?

Madame Arcati said...

No, DF's Libran, not flighty at all.

Anonymous said...

Pompeii is the most ghostly place I know

Anonymous said...

Is this the return of quality to British publishing, do you think?

Madame Arcati said...

The future in Kindle. But I prefer the feel of a good book in my hands, like my lovers.

New Zealand said...

Dear Madame Arcati, I greatly enjoyed your review. However, I did not understand your reference to Duncan Fallowell's 'impressive 40 '‘sexual partners’' in the month following Princess Diana’s death, ‘including a group of women in a naturist Jacuzzi in Brighton.’ Are you or is he saying he had sex with all these women? I thought he was gay. Thank you again.

Madame Arcati said...

One for DF...

Anonymous said...

Magic. Yes. Been missing from English books for a long time. If DF is magical it means something new is happening. At last.

DF fan said...

At the risk of sounding mawkish this review fills me with joy. I still re-read Duncan's Italian trip book. And his Russian travel book is utterly superb. You are right not to try to compare him with other travel writers. He is singular, a one-man show. I look forward to reading How To Disappear.

The late Peter York said...

So, where should I look in my book store for this book - memoirs, travel? Sounds like a marketing nightmare.

Marketeer said...

It is a 'memoir' in the title and would therefore be classified in biography/autobiography. No problems

Anonymous said...

I have just printed out the photo of Duncan with no clothes on. It would make a great tea towel

Anonymous said...

I don't know DF or his books, but this is an absolutely brilliantly constructed review. Why aren't you reviewing for the Sunday Times?

Madame Arcati said...

How dare you! Madame has standards.

Anonymous said...

In the light of the photograph perhaps the book should be called How To Appear.

Anise said...

Am I right in thinking you fell out with Susan Hill? I do love her Speccie blog.

Madame Arcati said...

We didn't fall out. She just fell off.

Sir H said...

You're wasted on astrology. Poppet.

Svetlana said...

Is Duncan married?

Anonymous said...

My lasting impression of a DF book is of hotel rooms - whatever he gets up to, he then repairs to his hotel (alone) where he does his thinking and drinking. I hope there are hotels in Disappear.

Anonymous said...

Libran eh. Short for Life of Brian

Anonymous said...

Rehill must be fat to think that is skinny

Anonymous said...

Great! Let's rock!!!!

Runcieballs said...

Atheism is not a faith, as you claim in your review, but a default position in the absence of faith. How can it be a 'faith' if its essential nature is 'faithless'? Madame should be more sceptical of that Victor Olliver.

Madame Arcati said...

Of course atheism is a faith - how ridiculous to think otherwise. Its tenet is there is no god: in the absence of actual knowledge on the matter, one can only adopt a belief in no-god, and a belief is a faith. That you choose to dress this belief up as a 'non-belief' is mere pre-emptive sophistry to distinguish yourself from god-believers. But actually you're all as ghastly as each other. Now run along before I cause you injury, you twerp.

Anonymous said...

Why do you say the Isle of Eigg is "alcoholic"? It's nothing of the sort.

Anonymous said...

Can I get a signed copy?

Anonymous said...

How can Fallowell abuse miraculous Venice! I had my honeymoon there and it was perfect

Ned said...

Thanks for not spoiling the book's gems. Another reviewer would have given the game away.

Anonymous said...

Is the second pic Duncan's Christmas card this year?

Anonymous said...

How could anyone flog Venice? DF's plainly mad.

Liz said...

Which was the naturist jacuzzi in Brighton? Bristol Gardens?

Anonymous said...

If this book is only half as good as the reviewer claims, my faith in publishing will have been restored. All I see in the bestseller lists is Katie bloody Price and her ghosted rubbish, Stephen sanctimonious Fry, a load of TV spin-off crap, celebrity chef bilge and lookalike commercial fiction. The bookstores are largely to blame in my view as they thin pout stock in favour of 'hits' - I hope they all go out of business under slabs of kindles.

Night Tripper said...

Duncan said somewhere that the writing in this book surges like a series of opium visions. Did you find that? I'm interested in opium and the imagination. Also you use magical, mysterious, these words, which suggest a similar atmosphere - I like books which can't be completely pinned down. My problem with most new books (of the creative sort) is that they are a bit too obvious or earthbound. I looked at Duncan's video where he talks about the interplay of the four elements in this book. I love all that sort of stuff when it's subtle and not in your face cheesy hocus pocus. Looking forward.

Evelyn Laye said...

DF terrorised my sweet friend in the bookshop she runs when he swooped in and asked for a copy of his last book and found that they didn't stock it. I wonder if he visits every store in London on this mission? Furious he was, by all accounts.

Madame Arcati said...

Dear Night Tripper, I have never had opium visions so I can't say, though I'd suggest the Maruma piece especially has an hallucinatory quality. I can only say the book is authentically odd and otherly. And while DF sets out to dispel a mystery he tends to add to it by his discoveries - our curiosity may be sated to some extent, yet much is left to wonder about. It's a type of magic to pull something apart and yet leave it intact.

Diarist said...

I've noticed your review has pushed up the book from over 1,000,000 in the Amazon hit parade to 77,000 this morning. The power of Arcati indeed!

Anonymous said...

40?

Mr Fogg said...

It's interesting that for all his talent, Duncan Fallowell is not listed as one of the top 50 UK travel writers: http://www.travelblather.com/2010/09/top-50-travel-writers.html.

Is this because he gets about on his own steam, unlike the liggers on the list?

Anonymous said...

To Noto is Duncan's best travel book.

Is Sophie a cunt? said...

On the Amazon page for this book one of the ads is for Fallowell Estate Agents. What an entrepreneurial man Mr F is.

Anonymous said...

They're travel journalists on travelblather

Anonymous said...

I want a photo of A.S.Byatt with no clothes on

Anonymous said...

Is this a literary Playgirl or something?

Anonymous said...

Once you've seen the film Don't Look Now it's hard not to love Venezia.

Anonymous said...

Your review is most interesting. I knew the woman you call rather familiarly 'Bapsy' and I can assure you her life was not at all 'pointless' as you describe it. She donated much money to various institutions and took an active interest in many charitable enterprises. As a titled member of the nobility her proximity to the British Royal Family, and to other royal houses around the world, was just a matter of course. I felt I should try to put the record straight even before I read Mr Fallowell's book. Thankyou.

Ted said...

I'm Mr Fallowell's batman. He's asked me to ask you to ask your correspondent which bookshop he's supposed to have terrorised as he doesn't remember the incident and says it's not his style. Cheers, thanks. Yrs, Ted

The Distinguished John Blake said...

I would never publish rubbish like this. I sell books about real men who bash up people and cut off their toes etc. This Fallowell bloke sounds like his name, a bit airy fairy. The men in my books would never go to Venice and only go into a jacuzzi to give the broads a good slapping. They go to Brighton though. Cheers.

Madame Arcati said...

I do not recollect DF attending a Jacuzzi in Venice. It's not too late to save your wretched tabloid soul, John; or whoever you are.

We must legislate against people masquerading as others on the internet. It's woeful.

Anonymous said...

Forty sexual partners in a month? Sounds like a tall tale to me. Depends what you mean by "sexual" I guess. Perhaps someone only has to look at Duncan.

The late Jedward said...

Librans may not be flighty but they can be quite two-faced.

Anonymous said...

John Blake still publishing? Thought he'd folded

Anonymous said...

Independent on Sunday says Duncan's publisher is 25 years old. Is this wise?

Madame Arcati said...

I watched a 16 year-old girl sing a lovely song on X Factor last night so I guess a 25 year-old publisher is getting on a bit. He'll have made a tidy fortune by 30 when he sells to or merges with a Rupie.

Anonymous said...

Chuck Berry wrote songs about lusting after 16 year olds - lots of em did in the 1950s - it was allowed

Madame Arcati said...

Lusting is very common. Which reminds me, delighted to see Nicky Haslam like How To Disappear. Wonder if he'll review it.

Green Goddess said...

Tell Duncan smne has hacked his Twitter. Or to stop sending me lewd photos. Prolly the former.
Poor sweetypops. Looking fwd to buying the book but they don't have it at OWL Bookshop in Kentish Town either just so you know.

Madame Arcati said...

Disgusting innit, I deplore the publication of nude pics, and fancy a writer like DF being used like that. I think he knows about it. Been quite a lot of account hacking on Twitter lately. I blame Andy Coulson.

Green Goddess said...

More interesting Darling MA is that legally privileged e mails about overturning a double murder conviction on the grounds of PTSD in a traumatized soldier cc'd to the Guardian end up in the in-trays of Mail on Sunday hacktoids. Press Complaints Commission or death by gossip column.Or perhaps both?

Madame Arcati said...

How odd. Are you suggesting that the saintly Guardian has passed on info to the forces of evil? If you have a news release I must gaze upon it.

DRF said...

I wasn't going to comment on this post - too overcome by Madame Arcati's brilliance - but feel I should say that my Twitter account was hacked and I've changed the password and hope that's cured the problem. Most people told me it was a dead link, so perhaps the Twitter Corporation were on to it - perhaps Green Goddess got there before it was stopped. If it continues I don't quite know what to do - advice, anyone?

Best, Duncan

Anonymous said...

Does John Blake still keep tropical fish in his office?

NH said...

Knowing Mr F is a former whatnot of April Ashley, I was most interested to read the first chapter of her latest unpublished bookwhich can be found on her website. It opens -

"Prince Max von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, fat and twinkling in his decorations, was sitting on my left at a gala dinner in the south of Spain. The room glittered with crystal and silver, pineapples, lobsters and champagne. People talked about mutual friends and parties in London, Paris and Rome. One side of the room was a semi-circle of colonnaded windows through which bejewelled figures slid out to the candlelit terrace and the music of the band. I gave up toying with a truffle omelette and let my gaze wander across the breathless midnight Mediterranean. Beyond, way beyond, were the lights of the coast of North Africa.

"Prince Max leaned over, looked down my cleavage and whispered. ‘My dear, what colour are ….?' "

Do we think April's various passages require editing?

Madame Arcati said...

Er, thank you. I think the entire book Odyssey is online - http://www.antijen.org/Aprilv1/

Anonymous said...

Is Susan Hill still blogging at the Spectator? Her last one is dated February of this year

Madame Arcati said...

Oh dear, well I did say she was flighty, like all Aquarians. And then there's her movie out with sexy Dan Radcliffe. Hairy. Still, that's no excuse.

Anonymous said...

Of course poppet. They "the holier than the Pope" Guardian have till 5pm 2moro to tell me it's been deleted off all their servers and why an e mail covered by client/solicitor privilege was ciculated to Skanks on Sunday. Or I'm taking it to the PCC and will post Ian Katz and Super Injunction Rusbridger's mobile phone numbers on internet chat forumsm actually, here's Ian's just for japes. 07770 444 700 Let's see how they like having private info spread like peanut butter on jelly. Humm?

Madame Arcati said...

You're such a naughty girl! When you're quite ready, I would like an email interview on the hacks you've fucked. We don't have to mention names, but cock type and size crucial. Oh dear, and I thought I'd mellowed.

Anonymous said...

This a very odd blog.

Anonymous said...

Oh deffo. But only if I can tell you all about Ecumenical ********* [deleted on legal advice] who goes Commando in his handmade suits. And holds it all up with braces. And comes in expensive Sea Island cotton face towels cos that's not cheating, you see.
Uncircumcised cocks are very ugly nuh?
Of course I've mellowed but do notice the faint smell of mouldering sewage when you pass the canal near Kings Place?

Madame Arcati said...

Oh excellent, 'Fleet St' shall be agog and shaking.

Anonymous said...

Sweetypops you scare me more than the lot of them, changing Leppard spots and the left handed Hookhams and Super Injunction Rusbridger himself. Even D'acres of Filth and agriculture doesn't make me bat an eyelash (lid?) Compared to the power of the Mighty MA. And tell V to stop censoring me. FFS
Promise we'll never fall out. Or over. Or off. Or I'll have to emigrate.
I stopped fucking hacks years ago. This was just a lapse. Like one line of cocaine after 5 years or sthng. Not that I'd know.
Right. Bed. Horlicks. Curlers.
X

Madame Arcati said...

I love it when you're pissed. x

Guardianista. said...

Patrick Butler. YUMSTER!

Anonymous said...

One can be a part-time narcissist I find, in that having paid attention to the outisde world, one then withdraws to the looking glass to bask.

Madame Arcati said...

Who?

leopards and spots said...

Isn't David Leppard taking it without wax for MI5? Hislop uncovered his shame a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

Odd blog? And GETTING ODDER!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Uncircumcised cocks ugly? You mean you prefer those chewed-off little stabbers? You must be - at best - a visually challenged religious maniac

Madame Arcati said...

Oh, think of the tone, darlings, the tone. Susan Hill will grow quite faint, the poppet.

Anonymous said...

A knob end pushing out of a foreskin is the sexiest thing made by God with a capital G

Anonymous said...

The ones made by Cartier are pretty good too

Fabberjay said...

We at Fabberjay do a lovely knob-end with foreskin too

Anonymous said...

And then there's Big MacKnob-its for the lower orders.

Anonymous said...

I just love adulterated cock, hard and glistening, veins thrusting, male power. Foreskin is just a distraction. Not nice for blow jobs either.

The late Nigel Dumpster said...

The Social Shuttle says that Madame Arcati and Duncan Fallowell are one and the same person. Did Madame just interview herself and is that her knob on display ?

Madame Arcati said...

Oh dear, someone's not doing their homework.

Diarist said...

I didn't realise you had interviewed Fallowell. I imagined you reviewed his book. If he's Madame Arcati then he must also be The Lady's astrologer. Is there no end to the man's talents?

DRF said...

An Australian has posted that I am you, citing Wikipedia. To my horror I see that a final sentence to that effect was very recently added to my Wikipedia entry. My entry there has also suffered from vandalisation in the past. I shall have the sentence removed.

with best wishes, Duncan Fallowell

Madame Arcati said...

Good. I have written to Australia's Social Shuttle to say they've been misled. Wikipedia should be able to tell who added the nonsense.

DRF said...

It's done

Larks said...

New Zealand hasn't forgotten

Anonymous said...

They've sold out on Amazon. I hate this sort of thing. The wind-up -then you can't have it. The whole thing is a fucking cock-tease. Not good

Madame Arcati said...

I'm sure they'll restock.

Kiwi Keith said...

What haven't we forgotten?

Anonymous said...

You can buy it straight off the Ditto Press site, or from Waterstones http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/duncan+fallowell/how+to+disappear/8562982/ . Amazon will re-stock. A few other sellers on Amazon have it, Book Depository etc.

Anonymous said...

Fallowell libelled New Zealand and will never be forgiven.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review. Pity the book is out of stock on Amazon.

Stanley said...

I've just read your wonderful review, I had no idea Fallowell had a new book out. I intend to read it. I loved St P.

Madame Arcati said...

DF great on Excess Baggage - you may still be able to listen to it - http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/b014f1cs