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When You Disappeared

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When You Disappeared by John Marrs (it said it was formerly published as Wronged Sons)
I have had this on my Kindle for a while, it was in one of those offers you get from time to time, I only paid a £1 for it so it was a punt where I thought – only a quid, what the hell!  I read it and I was thinking those same three words but in a totally different context, ‘what the hell!’ certainly sums up this story.
When you read the blurb it says:
All she wanted was the truth, but she’ll wish she never found out.
When Catherine wakes up alone one morning, she thinks her husband has gone for a run before work. But Simon never makes it to the office. His running shoes are by the front door. Nothing is missing—except him.
Catherine knows Simon must be in trouble. He wouldn’t just leave her. He wouldn’t leave the children.
But Simon knows the truth—about why he left and what he’s done. He knows things about his marriage that it would kill Catherine to find out. The memories she holds onto are lies.
While Catherine faces a dark new reality at home, Simon’s halfway around the world, alive and thriving. He’s doing whatever it takes to stay one step ahead of the truth.
But he can’t hide forever, and when he reappears twenty-five years later, Catherine will finally learn who he is.
And wish she’d stayed in the dark.
Now when I read that my initial thoughts were, ‘Simon is a knob, the end’, but I guessed (and hoped) that it was going to be a bit more than that, and that is what intrigued me and pulled me to it. 
It is slightly confusing to begin with but you quickly fall into the way it is written, it jumps backwards and forwards through time, telling the story from both Simon’s and Catherine’s perspective.  I think it is supposed to represent the fact it is a conversation between the two of them. He is telling his story and she is telling hers recounting what has happened to them over the years and then at various points you come back to the present moment to discover what the others reaction is to what had just been said. The story starts with Simon turning up on her doorstep after 25 years and after the initial shock she lets him in and hears him out hoping she is going to finally get the answers as to why he went, he is there with a totally different agenda and that is how it begins.
First of all let’s make this point very clear - Simon is not a nice person, I swung from my ‘Simon is a knob’ theory to ‘this man has some seriously deep seated psychological issues’ and a degree of sympathy started to evolve, but that quickly disappears and I returned to ‘Simon is a knob’ quite quickly, but as the story continues though, it dawns on you, yes Simon is a knob – he is completely selfish and narcissistic but he is also a deeply disturbed psychologically damaged man, but the depths of that damage and its repercussions on himself and everyone around him are truly shocking.  
There is an interesting theme which evolves through it, it is basically a commentary on the nature versus nurture theory of mental illness - are people damaged by their upbringing, or is it in their genes have they inherited the way they are from their parents or is it as this story seems to suggest a combination of both and it seems to pose the question can a person overcome these factors to go on and live a good life, and this story shows that some can, some can take what is thrown at them and eventually they can overcome it and it makes them stronger and others can’t they just crumble and ultimately destroy themselves and those around them, it also shows people are ultimately responsible for their own destiny no matter what they have endured and what they have inherited and how that has shaped the way they think, some become and are destroyed by their mental health issues others fight them and use them to their advantage and try and make something positive. Basically speaking you see how two people react to what they have been through in their formative years and how they as the adults they have become deal with it.  
You hear of the hideous childhood both he and Catherine endured at the hands of their parents and how it shaped them, he became a narcissistic psychopath, blaming the world and everyone else for his problems and lashing out at those he believed wronged him, she initially became a doormat, she continually put her own needs aside for everyone and by doing so was part of the reason everything that happened, happened, because in a way she unknowingly gave him the excuse to do what he did, she gave him someone to blame, it could be argued that if she had only just opened up and told him something fundamental which had happened to her which we don’t find out until the end he wouldn’t have then jumped to the conclusions he did and made the assumptions he did make which then, because he was so deeply psychologically disturbed led to the chain of events that happened . But she kept it to herself as she didn’t want to upset him and like most victims she blamed herself for what happened and she feared if she told him he wouldn’t believe her and he would leave her, and there is the irony - he did leave her, but for the wrong reason, because she didn’t say anything he assumed the worst and sought revenge for what he considered her betrayal of him, which started everything that subsequently happened in motion and led him on to a path of self destruction and for 25 years he destroyed everything around him, but because he left she then dug deep and found an inner strength to survive, raise their children and make a success of her life. 
It was a truly shocking story, slightly incredulous in some places, but also sadly very believable. I had kind of roughly worked out what had happened which formed his reasoning for what he did by the time the end came, and although I hoped I was wrong the hints throughout the book which pointed in that direction meant I was proven right about one fundamental thing he did but even so when everything was laid out and explained it was still chilling and very, very disturbing to read.

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I'm not sure if I'd recommend it or not, as it does get into your head, (well it did mine) and I think there would be a lot of people out there who wouldn't see what I saw in it, I got that much from the very mixed reviews on Amazon that I glanced at, it was very polarised, people either loved it or hated it and generally speaking those who hated it focused on the 'Simon is a knob' part but I'm also pretty sure there would be a lot of people who would see what I eventually saw and saw the message that was trying to be told, also there is the undeniable fact that it is deeply disturbing as Simon does do some truly horrific things and his general behaviour throughout is just appalling with no apparent boundaries or remorse for anything he has done until right at the very end, when he finally realises everything he believed to be true that set in motion everything he did was in fact wrong.


Did I enjoy it? To be totally honest I'm not sure about that one either, it was compelling, that part is in no doubt I wanted to know what possessed him to leave in the first place and what made him hate his seemingly perfect marriage, wife and life.  It kept me interested even when at times in some parts felt a bit contrived and incredulous (Like when he accidentally meets his eldest son) but to say I enjoyed it makes me feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable as it would make me feel as much of a monster as Simon because what he did was so bad nobody could take any pleasure from it, (and yes I know its a work of fiction and the characters or plot aren't real but its the only way I can describe how it made me feel) so I think I'll settle for I'm just glad I read it. 


Also something I didn't mention in the main review there are a couple of secondary characters whose own childhood experiences and resulting mental health difficulties and personal issues play pivotal roles in this story. 

Edited by Apple
Correcting typo

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I got the same impression form the reviews on Amazon.  Not sure that I'd enjoy a book like that right at this precise moment in time but I'll keep a note just in case.

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