HOW TO DISAPPEAR: A Memoir For Misfits By Duncan Fallowell
Duncan Fallowell is best known as a travel writer, but in this new book his travels merge into biography as he explores the lives of various individuals who chose to ‘disappear’. The most fascinating piece investigates Alastair Graham, a one-time intimate of Evelyn Waugh, who was the basis for the famous character Sebastian Flyte (in Brideshead Revisited). By chance, in the late 1970s, Fallowell encounters Graham in a pub in New Quay. The conversation drifts onto books and Evelyn Waugh, and Graham makes the curious and tantalising remark that Waugh wasn’t ‘well-endowed’. However, it isn’t until months later that Fallowell realises who he has encountered. When a friend starts directing the Brideshead Revisited television series, Fallowell takes a renewed interest in Graham and returns to New Quay, only to be fobbed off by the old man. Then, in 1983, Alastair Graham dies, taking his secrets with him. Frustrated but not defeated, Fallowell gradually uncovers the enigma of this elusive man through research and a great deal of pestering, something he is very adept at! Other characters Fallowell becomes captivated by include Bapsy Pavry, the Dowager Marchioness Of Winchester, an aggressive and relentless social climber in colonial India; and Maruma, a German artist, who buys the Scottish island of Eigg on a whim and excites the local population into expecting a transformation of their community. The transformation and also the promised visit by Maruma both fail to eventuate. Fallowell is a superb writer – witty, erudite, dogged in his pursuit of his story – and this book is unique and utterly beguiling. He illuminates the lives of some obscure but fascinating people and places with great charm and an individual, informed voice. How To Disappear won the 2012 PEN/Ackerley Prize, an honour that is richly deserved.