Hisham Matar - Anatomy of a Disappearance
This novel found me on a rainy morning spent wandering around a seaside town in Kent.
Now, how a proofreader only copy of Anatomy of a Disappearance popped up onto the shelves of a charity shop in a backwater place named Ramsgate would be interesting to discover.
Anyways, my copy of this novel doesn't have either the name of the author nor the title of the book printed on its cover, but only a black and white photo of a curly-haired woman wrapped up in a towel. You cannot see the face of the woman whose backside lines are at the same time covered up and underlined by the tightness of the towel around her hips. A steaming cup of coffee (or is it black tea?) is at her hand's reach.
Who is this woman, I wondered? And then I discovered the word "Mona..." on the back cover of the book. But all this preamble could be useless as a disclaimer note shown in the very first page of the novel says that "the contents of this copy may not resemble those of the final work". I wonder if they do.
To be honest, I would prefer if they don't as I would be pleased to think that what I read is somehow unique, an aborted draft, a rare specimen of a book. Oddly enough, I couldn't spot a single typo in this "not revised" copy of Anatomy of a Disappearance whilst the only tiny inconsistency I noticed is a time one which I won't bother to report.
Mona, I said. Or Mona...with the three suspension dots included.
She looks to be the woman here. The Woman, I mean.
She is the mysterious and irresistible character who would turn up the table of the events around 12 years old Nuri and his father Kamal. From what I read, she resembles the woman portrayed on the cover.
And yet, the fil rouge of this semi-autobiographic novel is not only Mona, but a total of three important women and the way they interact with Nuri (and his father):
A mother (a wife), a stepmother (a second wife - Mona), and a servant (a servant?).
At first, I thought the novel revolved around the loss of his mother experienced by young Nuri then I believed it was about the stepmother character (Mona), only to discover how the book left her behind.
To the author credit, I have to say how he has been very clever in diverting my attention switching from one woman to another.
However, I'm not sure that the women Matar left behind along the plot are fully developed especially in the way Nuri perceives them and their influence on him at the end.
It's true how the 12 years old boy we met at the beginning of the novel became a 25 years old man at the end of the story, but it doesn't look like Nuri's character managed to evolve very much in these 13 years apart from graduating in the UK and despite the unexpected events which happened around him.
That anatomy of a disapperance making the title of the book can be seen as the sum of several disappearances at the same time.
Where Matar partially (or consciously) fails is in going beyond the mere anatomy of bodies reacting in a spontaneous way to a disappearance for telling us how minds and feeling react.
No further complains, though as this is what I call a good short novel.
The events are set among England, Switzerland and Egypt and Hisham Matar appears clearly at ease in all of these three very different fishbowls.
All in all, Anatomy of a Disappearance was a nice catch for me in musty, decadent Ramsgate. Even though the contents of my copy may not resemble those of the final work.