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The Artist Vanishes

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The book follows two timelines: one is in the past, regarding the events of artist Sophie, from her rise to success to her mysterious disappearance; one is in the present, where documentarist James is making a movie on the vanished artist. 
Wonderful read!
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This book took a while to get into and when I did I still felt like there was something missing but, mind you, I am very picky about thrillers and I read a lot of them but I think this could really work for someone trying to get into the genre or wanting more of a literary mystery. I think my general disappointment is due to my own expectations of what a thriller should be. Overall not a thrilling book in my opinion but not a bad one either.
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This was a hard one first me to get through. It took me several weeks, and that was only partly due to a lack of free time. It was slow. And not slow-burn slow, just... slow. Not a lot happened, there was a negligible sense of urgency, and the mystery wasn't much of a mystery. 
Vaguely unlikable emerging artist/animal rights activist sells out, accepts huge grant from a pharma company intent on cleaning up its image, her second art project flops spectacularly, someone dies, she disappears. Years later, a washed-up,   vaguely unlikable journalist is convinced to do a documentary about her by his daughter, as he is living in her old flat. Not a lot happens.
The fact that they lived in the same flat was barely referred to and had no bearing on the plot, apart from being a MacGuffin at the very start. The father-daughter relationship is barely referred to again, either. Which, ok, I'm not mad at, I prefer a plot driven story to a character driven one, but it didn't work here. Because the plot was, essentially, will the vaguely unlikable journalist finish his documentary? Yeah, we learn about the vaguely unlikable emerging artist, and we do eventually find out what became of her (sort of) and why  she disappeared, but we never get any real resolution. Which might have been ok if I cared about the characters, but I didn't.
This one just wasn't for me.

One last note. Throughout the story, the death of a man names Martin is repeatedly brought up. It's all a bit mysterious. Who was he? Why did he die? Why did it ruin the artist's career? Except that it was so vague that I kept thinking, did I miss something? Did she explain earlier on and I blanked out? I kept confusing Martin with Robin, the gallery owner. When we finally learn who he actually was and what happened, I just thought, huh, ok. Which kind of summed up my attitude toward the book as a whole.
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Totally enjoyable literary mystery with dual timelines: one charting a troubled artist's rise to fame, embroilment in controversy, and subsequent disappearance, and the other following an equally troubled documentarian's quest to make a film about the missing artist. I found it perhaps a little slow to get going, but once I got into it, I couldn't put it down.
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It took me a page or two to get totally immersed in Sophie's life and in James' life, the filmmaker who is trying to make sense of who she is and what happened to her.   The tension builds and the questions remains, will we ever know what happens to her or will it be left unfinished in that way.   This book was much better than I expected and  was glad I read it
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I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

I love Sophie and James, the hero and heroine who don't know each other.  Both are brilliant and flawed yet searching for better lives.
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This is my favourite type of novel:  A literary thriller.   The quality of the writing is apparent from the first sentence, and the complex characters come alive on the page.   The plot is intense and the ending is satisfying.   This book is the whole package, I hope it gets the attention it deserves.
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The Artist Vanishes is literary fiction with crime elements. A dark and mysterious story. A treasure chest.

After a scandal, the artist Sophie Turgiers disappears. She was a well-known and controversial avant-garde artist. When a participant in one of her works of art committed suicide and the art world turned on her, Sophie disappeared. Where is she? Is she alive? Has she killed herself? Three years later, filmmaker James Dempster discovers that he has moved into an apartment Sophie has rented. His daughter, Lena, insists that he make a true crime documentary with a personal twist. In alternating chapters, the reader follows Sophie in her last weeks before she disappeared and James who tries to solve the riddle. Then the stories of Sophie in the past and James in the present are intertwined. It is an exciting journey.

    "The word 'obsession' has a Latin root, meaning to blockade, siege. I’m under siege from my sorrow, that rasping, thick-breathing realization that it’s almost over. I know I’ll be morbid about the curtains again. I can feel the cement setting in me. When it does, I struggle to open and close the curtains: I can’t figure out the point of this daily ritual. ”

I rarely read e-books at a stretch. This novel kept my interest all the way. The language is playful and easy. Surprising metaphors. Word games that shine. The dialogues and characters are authentic and fascinating. It is also exciting with setting from Cape Town.
The book is about addiction, family and friendship. About art and an artist's responsibility. About animal experiments and activists. About what can happen when respect for people, animals and art fades. When boundaries are trampled upon. The challenges between those who invest the money in art projects and artists. About the media's gaze that quickly alternates between admiration and contempt. The Artist Vanishes also deal with shame and guilt. The author describes addiction in a good way. Without TV series clichés or missionary work.
The Artist Vanishes is the author's second book. Westby-Nunn has spent 10 years writing the book and I'm glad she did not give up. I ordered the book to have a physical edition and am now looking for an edition of her debut novel The Sea of ​​Wise Insects.
(I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)
(my native language is not english)
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The Artist Vanishes, by Terry Westby-Nunn is a very cleverly told mystery thriller, and is also one of the good ones I've read. I got caught up in it, and I even thought about it when I was done reading it.
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This was very different kind of a book. A sort of literary mystery that i enjoyed reading. It might not work for die hard fans of thrillers, but uf u are looking for something different,  i would recommend it.
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The artist vanishes was an interesting book, that challenged me multiple times. I "hated" many aspects of it, and yet I could not put it down: it challenged me to step into others' people shoes more than I would feel comfortable doing otherwise. And, in that regard, it was an amazing experience. 

The book follows two timelines: one is in the past, regarding the events of artist Sophie, from her rise to success to her mysterious disappearance; one is in the present, where documentarist James is making a movie on the vanished artist. 
Sophie is a struggling artist, with a difficult childhood, strong ideals and taking up controversial themes in her art, from the male gaze to animal rights. Her big break-through comes when she wins a prestigious art grant offered by Blue Vista, a massive pharma corporation coming out from a recent scandal about their unethical experimentation on animals. But success comes at a cost, with Sophie now having to struggle with losing herself between the drugs, the fame, the friends' jealousies, the unfilled romances.  Eventually, her second collaboration with Blue Vista goes bad, with someone killing himself after having participated in Sophie's art work. After that, Sophie disappears. 
In the present, James, recently divorced, moves to the pre-success Sophie's apartment. A terrible work burn-out, followed by the stress of the divorce and the pain of his wife betrayal, drive James to the bottle. And while not a diagnosed alcoholic, the creeping addiction is starting to tear apart the relationship in his life. With the encouragement from his daughter Lena who sees the move into Sophie's apartment as a call from destiny, James starts a new documentary about Sophie's life until her disappearance. We'll follow him in his investigation and his attempts to turn his life around. 

CHARACTERS: I hated most of the characters in the book, but I think this was done on purpose by the author. I especially hated how they talked to each other, often by stereotypes and common phrases and with the typical hyperbolized tone used by edgy artists or annoyingly radicalized activists. The dialogues felt stiff and unnatural. 
But then reading the thoughts, sometimes almost streams of conscience, of Sophie and James, all of a sudden I could connect. I could see a human side that I would have missed entirely otherwise. I still did not like Sophie, but at least I could understand her. I could see her fragility, her insecurities, how different and truer, more authentic, less scripted and her thoughts were. And see the parts of myself that, like I did in Sophie's, I hate. 
Despite (or maybe because?) having less in common with James, I liked him much more than other characters. There was an earnestness in his thoughts, often being able to acknowledge his own flaws and mistakes. Where the dialogue lack dept, the first person narrators compensate to define fully fledged 3-dimentional characters, with gray morals, contradictions and messy life. 

THEMES: For the longest time, I thought that the themes of the book were animals abuse, gender equality, society's judgement, and other similar topics that were discussed over and over by the characters. And I was mildly annoyed at this. Not because I don't care about them, but because it felt as if these subjects were threated superficially. This feeling often coming from the use of those stereotyped almost slogan-like dialogues. 
But at some point through the book I realized that while those themes are mentioned, they were only marginally important for my experience. They acted, instead, as cleaver thoughts-provoking expedients to talk about entirely different themes. This book was, at least for me, about the contradictions in our life, the insecurities we struggle with, the need for external recognition, the acceptance of oneself, the relationship with our addictions --just to name a few. And those touch on the much more universal condition of just being human. 

VOICE: I liked the prose. Sometimes over the top, it fitted very well the characters. I only wished there was a more striking distinctions between Sophie's and James' voice. In fact, sometimes I felt that James was slipping in the same train-of-thoughts that were more typical of Sophie's chapters. I guess it is justified in the narrative, seen that both of them are artists, and have similar elements to their character. Yet I still felt in those occasions that the magic of being fully immersed in James' POV was broken and instead I was actually inside the book author's head.

MYSTERY [contains spoilers]: Finally, the mystery is solved in a satisfying way. A little bit obvious, with the evil corporation being behind it all, but it worked well with the narrative and I would been very annoyed if the mystery was something completely unrelated. To counterbalance the evil corporation narrative, this novel showed that the counterpart organization of extremized activists was pretty f****d-up too. So maybe both sides were just exaggerated to be over the top for the narrative purpose.

CONCLUSION: I loved how this book made me confront with difficult feeling and made me connect with characters for which I wasn't emotionally connected. I feel that if the dialogues and the secondary themes would have resonated more with me, this would have been a glowing 5. But this is just personal taste. It strongly believe that this wonderfully written book could easily be a 5 for many, and I would encourage anyone who enjoy literature thrillers to pick it and see how it personally resonates with them. 

I will gladly recommend this book to my friends and family, and I will be reading other books from the author.

I read this book in ARC, and I would like to thank Netgalley, author Terry Westby-Nunn and Penguin Random House for the oppurtunity.
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The Artist Vanishes
by Terry Westby-Nunn
Pub Date 01 Apr 2021 | Archive Date 28 Feb 2022
Penguin Books (SA)
General Fiction (Adult) | Literary Fiction | Mystery & Thrillers
I am reviewing a copy of The Artist Vanishes through Penguin Books (SA) and Netgalley:
Sophie Tugiers is a Cape Town artists who has been missing for several years. Her mysterious disappearance caused a brief ripple before dissolving into a distant media memory. Sophie’s controversial art made many people feel as if they were being alienated: those who didn’t consider her a sell-out thought her last exhibition was sadistic, and one of her experimental participants had committed suicide.
James Dempster is a jaded filmmaker with a problem with whiskey. Following a divorce that is acrimonious to say the least and needs a project to that will relaunch his stalled career. When James discover he has moved into the flat Sophie once rented he finds himself drawn into her sinister tale.
What happened to Sophie? Where are her friends and enemies hiding. Once James flat is ransacked and his research Is stolen he realizes his search could lead to his demise.
I give The Artist Vanishes five out of five stars!
Happy Reading!
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while not offensively bad, i was bored out of my mind reading this book. The Artist Vanishes doesn't do enough to develop its themes/ideas, and the characters lack any emotional depth, so I wasn't invested in the story or the answers to Sophie's disappearance.
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I kept hoping to care about the characters in this book.  I just couldn't.  This book meandered around a bunch of people I don't ever want to meet or ever read about again.  In the end, I no longer cared what happened to Sophie or what she did.  Or what anyone did.  I stayed because I thought it would make me feel like it wa worth it.  It was not.
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When I picked up "The Artist Vanishes", my plan was to read the first few sentences and then add it to the bottom of my virtual stack. Instead I knew I had just discovered a treasure in this literary mystery thriller!

FIRST SENTENCE: "The wind blew last night, taking with it dead things, forgotten things, lost things."


THEN: Capetown artist Sophie Tugiers disappeared after one of her controversial installations, Bloodbath, was linked to a participant's brutal suicide.

NOW: Several years later James Dempster, a film maker in a creative and alcoholic slump, discovers his apartment was once Sophie's home. His curiosity is aroused. What happened to Sophie? James' daughter encourages him to do some research hoping a new project will restart his life and career.

WHAT I THOUGHT: After that first sentence, I immediately started reading. The plot alone was interesting but the creation of the world of the book was even more fascinating. It's impressive how the author managed to touch on so many volatile issues without patronizing or preaching to the reader while writing about big pharmaceutical companies and animal testing, the responsibility of artists and how they are changed by fame and money, and the meaning of friendship.

Characters are distinctly drawn and memorable. The pacing moves the story along with surprises and rewards. It's a delight to read writing this beautiful.

Terry Westby-Nunn is also the author of "The Sea of Wise Insects".

BOTTOM LINE: This is an amazing book. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

DISCLAIMER: Thank you to NetGalley / Penguin Books for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
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What initially appears to be yet another thriller is actually a first rate literary novel, albeit one with a mystery at its center.
    The Artist in the title is Sophie Tugiers, someone who becomes famous, positively notorious for controversial exhibits and then becomes notorious, positively infamous for being named as the culprit in the death of one of her subjects.
    But first Sophie was a nobody, a proverbial (though not quite) starving artist dreaming of fame and fortune. Then she got a huge corporate sponsorship and sold out. Because, of course, she did. The carrot is front of her was just too irresistible. 
    Then Sophie was bathing in all the recognition, adulation and prestige. 
     And then the waters got murky. Morally challenging. Complex. Messy. And so she completed the title and vanished.
     So a classic three act story in a way.
And then there’s James. A man who unwittingly stays in Sophie’s old apartment and, through his daughter who is a fan, becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Sophie. James is a washed up and tired documentary maker, freshly divorced and drinking about it. Sophie, in a way, becomes a road to redemption for him. Even if he doesn’t find her, he might just find himself, buried somewhere underneath all that booze and self pity.
     So a very compelling drama, albeit with many thriller presets, such as split timeline, plot twists, etc.
     What really makes the book is its commentary or, more accurately, its indictment of the art scene. But also it mediates on the high cost of fame, selling out, the near impossibility of maintaining personal integrity in a scene that has very strict rules and conditions for its love. There  is a fascinating intersectionality of art and social commentary, not just in Sophie’s art, but in the novel’s themes. The fleeting attention spans or the easily distracted, the quick to snap blame finger. There’s plenty of food for thought here.
    The South African setting is a welcome bonus too. I love reading internationally whenever possible. Took me a moment to appreciate the ending, but it worked well.
      I don’t know if I especially connected with any of the players here, but a good book doesn’t actually require that. If the characters are well rendered and developed, it’s more than enough. So really it is a testament to the quality of writing that one can enjoy this book without necessarily emotionally engaging with either Sophie or James. Which is to say…good read. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
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There are really good books that are a little boring and there are reads that are super-fun but not really the best writing. The Artist Vanishes is the rare novel whose quality is unquestionable and that is suspenseful and addictive. There are debates about ethics, art, animal rights, poverty and fascinating tidbits of the etymology of some words. There is also a propulsive plot that’s impossible to put down. The characters are complex and contradictory. They all have good traits and awful sins. They cheat, lie and betray. The adversary, who may or may not be behind the artist’s vanishing, is a huge, unethical big pharma conglomerate with a horrible track record of animal abuse. There are other, minor baddies, from people with petty jealousies to downright psychopaths. In the forefront, this is the story of Sophie, a disgraced artist and James, a documentary filmmaker who’s trying to find out what happened to her. They are in similar situations but react differently. As an animal lover myself, some issues hit me deeply. Would I sell out to animal torturers for fame and a lot of money, as Sophie does? The author gives no easy answers. Lastly, I loved the ending. 
I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/Penguin Books (SA)!
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