The Verdict: 3.75/5
Who Should Read: Anyone looking for more mystery than thrills, more introspection than suspense
It’s been almost a year since Sybilla “Billie” Flanagan, wife to Jonathan and mother to Olive, disappeared while hiking in the wilderness. An extensive search turned up nothing but her shattered cell phone and a sole hiking boot.
Jonathan and Olive are still struggling to come to grips with Billie’s disappearance, and it gets harder when Olive starts having “visions” of Billie, her mother urging her to come find her. Meanwhile, Jonathan has been working on a memoir about his marriage to Billie, recounting their loving relationship.
Olive’s visions send her and Jonathan on a hunt to find out what really happened to Billie. And as they dig further, revelations and new information have both of them wondering just how well they knew Billie and whether she really died or just wanted to disappear.
I had heard good things about Watch Me Disappear: A Novel by Janelle Brown within the Bookstagram community, so I was excited to dig into this read. However, I believe I went into it with the wrong expectations. I was expecting a suspenseful, sinister mystery about Billie’s disappearance, with a fast pace and lots of twists and turns.
Watch Me Disappear is much more of a slow burn. No twist is rushed, no new information is hastily given. Brown very slowly and methodically unravels the story, thread by thread. Despite it not meeting my expectations, I came to appreciate the pacing. I feel that each new development was given its moment without hurrying onto the next.
The real power and best attribute of the book is its ruminations on the way we view the most important people in our lives and how well we can really know and understand them.
“We all have parts of ourselves that we don’t necessarily want everyone to see. Doesn’t change who we fundamentally are, right? Doesn’t mean we didn’t live the life we did. The traces we leave behind don’t mean anything on their own; they’re open to interpretation. Eye of the beholder.”
That’s what Jonathan thinks about at one point in the book when he starts learning things about his wife he’d never known. Beyond trying to process these new bits and pieces of his wife, he spends most of the novel trying to figure out what they mean about his marriage. Was their marriage really that strong if he didn’t know these things? Does what he knows now change their story? Does it morph from loving and beautiful to sinister and deceitful?
While I thought that the premise that “all people are unknowable” was rather pessimistic, it certainly is an interesting train of thought. There are many common experiences that we as humans share, but we are also incredibly unique individuals. I like to think that we all can find common ground where we truly understand each other, but Watch Me Disappear certainly makes you wonder.
Although the pacing was difficult to get into, I’m happy I made it to the final chapter, which provides a satisfactory ending and really draws everything together. Also, I must say that the final line of the entire book was absolutely perfect — don’t peek, though!
Have you read Watch Me Disappear? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!