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VINE VOICEon 26 June 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This novel starts with an enigma. At the end of World War Two, a young officer called Kenneth Brill is arrested on espionage charges. A landscape artist, he has been painting pictures of a new aerodrome and is suspected of spying for the Germans. As his interrogation continues, the narrative flashes back to episodes from his past; as an art student at the Slade, as a failed schoolmaster, and as a child living on the heath west of London that later lent its name to London's premier international airport. Gradually we learn more about his life - always as an outsider on the fringes of society - and about his alliances, his motivations and his failings.

This ought to work well, and the novel is exquisitely written - there are some glorious descriptive passages, such as the elegy for the lost rural world of the Heath destined to be flattened by runways, terminal and international air traffic. Gerard Woodward is also a poet, which goes some way towards explaining the quality of his prose; sadly, he is not quite so skilled a storyteller and parts of the plot lost me altogether. The narrative is somewhat unfocussed and I found myself frequently losing interest, putting the novel aside to read something else - consequently it took me months to finish it. The central metaphor deals with disappearance and disguise - Brill is a camouflage officer - and perhaps as a result, the story has a tendency to fade and becomes elusive itself. Ultimately, a frustrating read.
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on 18 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Kenneth Brill, artist and camouflage expert, is on trial during WW2 for painting pictures of the location where an airport (later Heathrow), is to be built and where this landscape in which he grew up, will be lost forever. At first the charges seem nebulous as the story follows Kenneth, in round about fashion, from childhood to his present predicament.
Kenneth Brill is an exasperating character. He seems to have very little understanding of his own nature or motives, and even less of those of other people. He lurches through life, getting expelled or drummed out from various schools and jobs for things that are rarely entirely his fault. He trusts people he should not trust and is invariably punished for it before falling into the next trap. When joining the army as a 'failed painter' he is directed into camouflage in the middle east and again has no idea where he is being led.
I couldn't help liking this helpless creature and indeed found him far more likeable than the rest of the cast.
I did find the parts of the book devoted to the Heath pretty hard going; the place is portrayed warts and all, not to mention sludgcake heaps, and though there is black humour the story for a while nearly lost me. I found myself wishing they would hurry up and build the airfield.
The timescales in the story shift frequently between the various stages of Kenneth's life but I liked the way it was broken up. This is the first book I've read by this author and I certainly intend to read others.
I'll remember Kenneth, looking forward to a future which can hardly be other than more of the same. I wish him well, but without much hope.
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In Vanishing, Gerard Woodward dramatically expands his scope and broadens his themes over his novels of the past, while narrowing his story to one main character whose life the reader follows from childhood through his arrest for espionage in the late days of World War II. Kenneth Brill, the main character, is in a military prison as the novel opens, as Davies, his interrogator from the Air Ministry, arrives to interview him in preparation for his trial for espionage. Brill has been caught painting a large number of landscapes of the farm area where he grew up, a few miles outside of London, where Brill’s family has farmed for generations. The Heath is about to become one of the biggest military air bases in Europe, and evidence from Brill’s past suggests to the Air Ministry that he may be using the paintings to send coded messages to the Nazis.

Within a few more pages, Davies lets Brill know that he is completely familiar with the rest of Brill’s “record” – “arrested in London in 1937, and charged with giving false information to the police. And again in 1939 – for an act of trespass in a royal household, the Palace, no less.” Like his father, who enjoyed doing conjuring tricks, Brill is an expert at making things (and sometimes people) disappear, and Davies accuses him of having an “unstickable,” even slippery, quality, having been expelled from a series of schools as both a student and a teacher. Even in the camouflage unit, he has never been in any one place for very long. His whole life seems to have been a series of “vanishings,” through disguise, camouflage, costuming, or staged events, and Davies now wants the whole story.

The “whole story” evolves through a series of complex flashbacks which may be the real story of Brill (or may not be) from his childhood to the start of his trial. By jockeying the scenes back and forth among several different places and times, Woodward keeps the suspense about Brill high while also developing themes. Several of Brill’s friends vanish for periods of time; buildings and landscapes vanish during the war; and some of Brill’s own carefully constructed self-images crumble. He “floats,” moving from place to place making no reasoned commitment on any level, an almost ghostly character who himself seems to vanish into the scenery.

Woodward’s structure of flashbacks through the many different phases of Brill’s life makes this novel work. War as a series of “vanishings” gives a new slant to that well-worn subject, however horrific it may be, and a big picture emerges for the reader, even as it eludes Brill’s own grasp. His unreliability as a narrator can be both frustrating and annoying, yet he emerges as a character for whom one feels some sympathy. Woodward does incorporate some of his trademark dark humor and ironies, though these are fewer than what are found in his earlier books. Ultimately, the novel trades the intensity and surprises of his shorter novels for the broader scope of the narrative and themes here, making this novel more panoramic and more fully developed but less wildly eccentric.
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Vanishing – A Master of Storytelling

Gerard Woodward returns with a meandering story of war, art, betrayal that has black humour and at times moving, Vanishing is a huge and complex novel. If you are looking for a fast paced spy thriller that bowls straight in to espionage then you will be disappointed, but this book is very clever, subtle and by the time you have finished quite rewarding. At all times you are questioning yourself about the central character, his actions, his thoughts and at times his sheer stupidity, but at no time in the book is the ending telegraphed, you have to read Vanishing to find out that answer.

Lieutenant Kenneth Brill is on trial for espionage, he is accused of spying for the enemy through his art, and that he is an accomplished artist and the army had used him as a camouflage expert at El Alamein and was successful at his job. He is being court marshalled for painting on the Heath that is about to become a new wartime aerodrome, the Heath where he grew up, attended school and his family lived. Today we know this aerodrome as Heathrow Airport, and through the book we get a picture of old Heathrow with very few landmarks left other than The Three Magpies on the Bath Road.

As a central character Kenneth Brill is probably one of the most exasperating characters I have read in a long time, there are times you feel like screaming at him, or at least his defence counsel ought too! Brill has no or little understanding of himself, his nature or the world about him, at times he comes across as quite innocent, sometimes quite stupid. Throughout the book Brill comes across as not understanding his own motives so the motives of others are completely lost on him. This would be one way of explaining some of the situations he finds himself.

One of the interesting tricks that Woodward does throughout the book to break up the story is the mixing of times, from the present of the court martial to his childhood, university and life after. So going backwards then back to the court martial gives you the depth of the character of Brill and his associates who seem to get him in various troubled situations.

This is an excellent book written by a wonderful storyteller who draws you in and leaves you guessing all the way to the end. The story is well researched and brings up the lost world of Heathrow before the airport, like a lot of places in England, the lost old England now covered in concrete. A different and much welcome take on how to tell both a war and spy story where even the clues are in the text but you really do have to work it out yourself.
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Kenneth Brill, the main character in British author Gerard Woodward's new novel, "The Vanishing", is not a figure readers might accept as worthy of being the subject of a novel. Brill, who begins the book as the defendant in a WW2 British army court-martial, has lived a life that looks pretty bad on paper - arrested for various offenses, both military and civilian. But those offenses seem to change in the telling of the circumstances behind them. And Kenneth Brill seems more like a Zelig-like character - one who pops up in different places in 1930's and 40's England. He was always sort of "there", but not quite as expected.

Brill's family are long-time settlers in an area due west of London, called "Heath". The land of his parents and other residents is being taken over by the British government during the war, to form an airstrip. That airstrip was eventually known as "Heathrow" and is today London's main airport. Brill, an artist, is arrested for possible treasonous acts after being found drawing pictures of the soon-to-be developed area. The court martial tells the story of Brill's life up to this point.

Okay, Kenneth Brill is a misunderstood figure. He's been in trouble for minor acts of vandalism, personal injury, recklessness, and going over-the-wall at Buckingham Palace to "plant German grass". He doesn't really understand his own sexuality (and neither do the readers)and the poor man goes from situation to situation. He doesn't go from "adventure to adventure"; he goes from situation to situation. This wandering through life is made possible by the people - family and friends - who in some cases cause his downfalls and in other cases help him recover. Kenneth Brill is an enigma, and I ended "Vanishing" with as little understanding of Brill and his life as when I began the book.

But even if I didn't understand Kenneth Brill, I enjoyed reading about him. He was an artist - though kicked out of London's prestigious Slade School of Fine Art - and his artist's sensibility accompanied him throughout his life. We see his life - as much as we can - through that sensibility. The book's title "Vanishing" can refer to a WW2 camouflage exercise in the African desert that Brill took part in, or, I think, his Zelig-like path through life. Please read all the reviews about the book before buying it. It's not a book for everyone, but it may be your cup of tea.
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on 27 April 2014
Vanishing is unlike any novel I have ever read. Fascinating, compelling and complex, I found myself perpetually surprised by how the narrative unfolded, and often tense with nervousness and fear over what would happen next. Brill is a wonderful and convincing character - idiosyncratic, full of passions he cannot control or understand, sometimes generous, sometimes vindictive, unable to predict not just himself, but others too. In short, he is so very human. The different strands of the narrative, and Brill's story, entwine coherently and grippingly as we learn about the events and forces that have formed him and brought him to a court-martial trial. This is a magical novel, about important things, encompassing 'the power of art to deceive', war, and sexuality. It recovers an almost lost act of history - the 'unforgiveable' destruction of the hamlet that was flattened so that Heathrow airport could be built. Woodward's poet's eye results in a visually arresting world. His novel is full of understanding and empathy for the foibles of his characters. The ending is perfect.
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VINE VOICEon 28 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Guy Crouchback came to mind when i first encountered Kenneth Brill, the main protagonist of this new novel set before during and after the second world war. Like Crouchback, Brill is an outsider looking on and participating in Events in a larger world context. Unlike him, Brill is a bit of a loser and is not particularly likeable.
Whether at school, art school, the army and as a professional artist, he sems never to quite get the better of any situation. He misunderstands the motives of his friends and lovers and ultimately this lands him in hot water with trhe authorities who accuse him of spying. Is he a spy? is he just one of lifes unfortunates who the world tends to trample underfoot? Gerard Woodward writes in an engaging and entertaining way and I found this book highly readable. Ultimately Mr Brill is portrayed as a somewhat shallow and naive character who was nevertheless a pleasure to encounter.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Vanishing written by Gerard Woodward for me was a great read which had me totally engrossed as we follow the arrest of Kenneth Brill as he remembers his time through the army up unto his arrest for painting pictures. At times I to be honest had to repeat a few pages as I did get lost along the way but was soon back in the flow of the story. It was an interesting story and why I like it so much was it was a complete picture at a man who I felt had something to hide but could not fully understand what, was it physical or emotional?

The author has a certain talent for telling a good story which I thoroughly enjoyed and for me this is one book I am happy to recommend this marvelous read.
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VINE VOICEon 8 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
By the end of this book you will have formed your own opinion. You will also understand why the court reach their own.

However on the whole it is an interesting journey with an odd man, from his childhood to the Court Case over just why he was asking questions and painting pictures of the soon to be developed Heathrow.

Is it a good read? Definitely. You are carried along on the story, so much so that it wasn't until the end that I realised I knew next to nothing about Kenneth's sisters for example. He is a very self-centred protagonist, not always very pleasant company and amazingly unselfaware. But it is a well told and intriguing story.

Parts of it are reminiscent of a pastoral memoire, maybe Cider with Rosie? Heathrow of the 1930s sounds a very interesting place, and is well drawn here.

One of the interesting devices used is that very early on Kenneth is confronted with a series of very damning pieces of evidence from his past, which seem to give witness to a very unpleasant personality. Throughout the book those incidents are gradually explained.

This is a book about shades of grey. Kenneth is not "a nice person", but there is a logic behind his actions. Just remember this is Kenneth's view of the world.

A really great read!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'He came into my cell this morning.'

The novel opens with Brill, the narrator, in prison, suspected of spying for the enemy during WWII as he has been drawing the land around what will become Heathrow airport. This is essentially a comic novel and Woodward plays with conventions in an amusing way. Even the opening scene plays with the convention of starting with an awakening. Brill awakes as the officer, who will represent him as counsel in the trill, comes into the room and he feigns sleep and even drools for good measure.

The novel is interesting in terms of its evocation of time and place and had excellent passages - of course, Woodward can write, and I especially liked the description of student life at the Slade.. Yet it doesn't add up to a coherent whole and I was left somewhat dissatisfied. I had enjoyed Nourishment and August and felt that this wasn't written as tightly and wasn't as strong in terms of observance and social comedy.
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