The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

by Maggie O'Farrell

Overview: Chic and independent, Iris Lockhart is tending to her vintage-clothing shop in Edinburgh (and evading her married boyfriend) when she receives a stunning phone call: her great-aunt Esme—whom she never knew existed—is being released from Cauldstone Hospital, where she has been locked away for more than sixty years. Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her father in Esme’s face. Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world—but she's still basically a stranger, a family member hidden away who will surely bring secrets with her when she leaves the ward. Moving expertly among the voices of Iris, Kitty, and Esme herself, Maggie O'Farrell reveals the story of Esme's tragic and haunting absence.

Debbie Weiss (05/17/16): The story is not an unfamiliar one in literature -- a relative that you never knew existed now appears and you try take it all in. Iris Lockhart is now made aware of Esme, a great-aunt that she never knew existed. She had been hidden away in a mental hospital since she was a teenager. The hospital is closing and Iris agrees to take Esme home with her.

What is different about this book is the way it is written. While the narrative moves between Iris, Esme and Esme's sister Kitty, the change of voices occurs paragraph by paragraph instead of chapter by chapter. This made it a little bit confusing to follow, but interesting none-the-less. I agree with Dale that the end was a little unsettling and it would have been nice to have someone to discuss it with.
Rating: ****

Suzanne Lonardo: I am a reader, not a writer. Never can I do justice in a written book review but I'd like to make a few observations. Or try. I had no rest until I finished this book. Could not and would not put it down. Yes, Esme Lennox was an odd duck and her story was an unusual one, Maggie O'Farrell however, is the woman that intrigues me. Her thoughtful insights into the mind of Esme fascinated me. Is Maggie O'Farrell on the "edge" as well? One could almost fall into the well of near insanity (or enlightenment) along with Esme and Maggie. This book is one that will stay on my bookshelf with all of my highlighting and underlining so that I can go back and visit it again and again.
Rating: ****

Nancy Jackson: I, too, loved this book. Maggie O'Farrell is a master of writing novels in different voices, allowing the reader to experience the characters fully. I almost love this book as much as Maggie O'Farrell's premiere novel, After You'd Gone.
Rating: *****

Dale Israel: Thanks to Karen Kneiter, I found out about this gem of a book. Esme Lennox is an odd duck who was committed to an insane asylum for 61 years. She was eventually released to the care of her niece when the facility was closing its doors. At times this was a difficult book to follow as it was told from 3 different points of view: Esme's, her sister Kitty's, and Iris'(the niece). It was sort of like a jigsaw puzzle...with each piece you'd learn a little more. The ending was a little vague and left me wanting to discuss it with others. This was certainly a unique book but it kept my attention and was a real page turner. Try it...you'll like it.
Rating: ****

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