Title: Disappearing Off The Face of The Earth
Author: David Cohen
Publisher: Transit Lounge
Published: 1st May 2017
Synopsis: Hideaway Self Storage, located just off Brisbane’s M1, is in decline. But manager Ken Guy and his assistant Bruce carry on with their daily rituals even as the facility falls apart around them. Lately, however, certain tenants have been disappearing off the face of the earth, leaving behind units full of valuable items. Ken has no idea where these rent defaulters have gone but he thinks he might be able to turn their abandoned ‘things’ into a nice little earner that could help save his business. But the disappearances are accompanied by strange occurrences such as Bruce’s inexplicable late-night excursions, Ken’s intensifying aversion to fluorescent lights, and Ken’s girlfriend’s intensifying aversion to Ken. While further along the motorway, construction of a rival facility – Pharoah’s Tomb Self Storage, part of a nationwide franchise – hints at a mysterious past and a precarious future.
A surprisingly funny study of physical and mental deterioration, David Cohen’s second novel is never quite what it seems. Sharply attuned to the absurdities of contemporary urban life, it is that rare literary beast, a comic drama that is at once intelligent and suspenseful, humorous and deep.
Dropping Off The Face of the Earth begins with the main character, Ken, working at his business, Hideaway Self Storage near Brisbane, with his assistant, Bruce, whom he has worked with before, yet, until Bruce started working at Hideaway, had not seen him for years. As the story progresses, Ken’s relationship with Ellen begins to deteriorate, and the people renting out storage spaces begin to go missing. And so begins a mystery that has elements of being disturbing and mixes it with a warped sense of humour to look at the day to day working life of an individual. And also, into how the relationships they have deteriorate or area affected by the strain on the body and the mind of the job Ken is in, interrogating the way the mind can begin to play tricks on you, and shake your sense of what is real.
As the story was told in first person narration, the world of the story was seen purely from Ken’s point of view. For what the author was trying to achieve, this worked but still had it’s flaws: the other characters didn’t feel fully thought out, and only seeing them through Ken’s eyes gave a warped view of his world that didn’t always make sense. As the novel flicked back and forth, I started to wonder if there was more to Ken, and when Bruce disappeared, and Ken went in search of him and recognised some places and names but couldn’t recall being there, I wondered if the author was examining how one’s mental health can begin to deteriorate and affect our perceptions of the world.
At times, the comedy shone through but at other times it was a little obscure for me – I may not be the right audience for this book. David Cohen has taken a usually dry and boring subject and injected humour, and wit into it. I felt that the story looked at the fragility of human life and mental health, and as the story progressed, Ken’s telling felt like it flickered all over the place, making him and the reader question a sense of what was real and what wasn’t by the end. I read the last few pages a few times, but the ending was obscure and offered little in a satisfying conclusion in either direction for me.
Whilst this book wasn’t for me, and I am unlikely to read it again because at times I found it confusing, and simply didn’t enjoy the story or connect with the characters, there will be an audience out there for this book.