Byron Rogers

Nobody turns up

This is not a book likely to figure in the lists of the reading circles of Home Counties England. There is for a start the little problem of a title, which on the spine is How to Disappear but then itself does, for the centre of its frontispiece is A Memoir for Misfits. A dedication follows, ‘To my old friend Pedro Friedeberg whom I’ve never met’. Just three pages in, and every fuse in the brains of the respectable matrons who meet to talk about books will have blown over the Bristol Cream. And that is before they have even started reading.

What about? Oh, snobbery and sodomy, erections and drugs, you know the sort of thing, and, inevitably, faded hotels in faded seaside resorts in various parts of the world, all threaded together on quests for three people undertaken by the author who, like Alice, sees them disappear like the White Rabbit. Who are they? A man seduced 40 years before by the novelist Evelyn Waugh, as the result of which he sought sanctuary in a Welsh fishing village where he wrote a book on 20 ways to cook mackerel. Then there is the Indian Zoroastrian lady, the social climbing equivalent of a Saturn Five rocket. She managed to get the 90-year-old premier marquess of England to marry her, stealing him under the nose of James Bond’s creator’s mother (you might like to read that again), who later managed to steal him back and hustled him off to the Bahamas. Finally, a German artist who was said to be about to buy a Scottish island but never turned up. Nobody turns up.

Princess Diana figures in absence in the opening and, in her coffin, in the closing section. Evelyn Waugh (with, according to an eyewitness, his very small genitalia), is off-stage, as is Dylan Thomas’s wife Caitlin who, when the action slows, dances naked on assorted tables, watched once by the mackerel cook and a man with a machine-gun (it was the war after all, when, it was said, U-boat crews used to call like Jehovah’s Witnesses on the inhabitants of the more remote villages on the Cardiganshire coast).

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in