Summarising a book you’ve written yourself is a difficult and quite disconcerting thing to do. Malcolm Orange Disappears was my first published novel and, whilst I’m still quite fond of it and certain characters who appear within its pages, six books later, I can definitely see where it could be improved. The story focuses upon eleven year old Malcolm Orange, whose father has abandoned the family in Portland, Oregon. As he attempts to process this troubling situation Malcolm begins to notice he is, quite literally, disappearing. Malcolm’s mother has found a job as an orderly in a retirement village which comes with accommodation. As Malcolm settles into his new home he begins to befriend the elderly residents and together they go on a quest to stop him from disappearing.
Malcolm Orange is a magical realist text which uses metaphor and allegory to explore the various ways the older people in the retirement village feel as if they too are beginning to disappear. The loss of memory is explored at length. Many of the residents are living with Dementia and can’t remember important parts of their own stories. Malcolm and his friend Soren James Blue help the residents to form a kind of support group in order to capture one aspect of their history before it disappears.
“The People’s Committee for Remembering Songs existed solely for the purpose of remembering songs.” It meets several times a week and allows the residents to collectively recall the important songs which have shaped their identities. This section of the novel takes an imaginative look at how community and creative group exercises can, at best, help to slow the advance of Dementia and also help participants to find a sense of support and solidarity in being with others who are going through a similar experience. There is a particularly poignant scene towards the end of the novel where the residents all sing together in unison and experience a kind of miraculous release which doesn’t remove them from the realities of the illness but allows them to feel free and powerful as autonomous individuals. Much of this section was inspired by my own experience of volunteering with an Alzheimer’s Society, Singing for the Brain group.
“Emboldened by the miracles unfolding in every corner of the Treatment Room, the People’s Committee for Remembering Songs whooped and hollered, raising their wrinkled chins and hands in anticipation of further healing. The noise was deafening.”
As mentioned above Malcolm Orange is far from a perfect novel but it does give some interesting insight into how ageing, and in particular Dementia, is viewed from a child’s perspective. It explores the use of Dementia as a literary device for introducing fantastical elements into a story and also touches upon issues of sexuality, disability and autonomy in regards to those living with Dementia within a residential care environment. I hope it also advocates for the power of story in attesting to who a person living with Dementia once was and continues to be.
Malcolm Orange Disappears was published by Liberties Press in 2014