The Vanishing of Margaret Small, by Neil Alexander

Book blurb:

Meet Margaret Small: 75, plain spoken, Whitstable native and a Cilla Black super fan. Shortly after the death of her idol, Margaret begins receiving sums of money in the post, signed simply ‘C’.

She is convinced it must be Cilla, but how can it be? To solve the mystery of her benefactor Margaret must go back in her memories almost 70 years, to the time when she was ‘vanished’ to a long-stay institution for children with learning disabilities.

An absorbing mystery with a dual timeline, The Vanishing of Margaret Small takes listeners into a fascinating past, and introduces an unforgettable literary heroine.

My review:

What an enchanting book. Despite her horrendous upbringing in a cold, cruel home for those with learning disabilities, Margaret Small manages to emerge as a kind, lovable, empathetic woman. I adored her and didn’t want this audiobook to end. There’s a bit of everything in this debut novel. Love, mystery, abuse, friendship, family relationships and institutional life.

Mainly, it’s a stark reminder of just how awful life was for women – particularly those who were differently normal – in the mid-twentieth century. They simply had no say – over their lives or their bodies. Those with learning difficulties were open to wide-spread abuse – by uncaring nurses and men. 

Margaret has always been besotted with Cilla Black, whose music and autobiography she listens to constantly now that she’s free to live on her own. Wayne is her care worker – a wonderful gay man who genuinely cares for his ward and friend, and opens Margaret’s eyes to things about the world that escaped her while incarcerated. He also gives her the strength to get to the bottom of the mystery of who has started to send her money, simply signing themselves as ‘C’.

Although shocking in many ways, this still manages to be a warm, cosy mystery which is hilariously funny in parts. The parallels and circularity in the plot are clever and absorbing.  I found the book utterly delightful, and will be recommending it widely. It is beautifully narrated by Annie Aldington.

About the author:

Much of the inspiration for Neil Alexander’s debut novel, ‘The Vanishing of Margaret Small’, came directly from the voices of people with a learning disability, and the incredibly moving first person accounts of living in long stay institutions, which he heard while working for the UK charity Mencap. Neil, who has a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Kent at Canterbury, began his career working in health journalism. Originally from Northern Ireland, he now lives in the seaside town of Whitstable in Kent. He currently teaches English part-time and is working on his second novel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s