The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

>> Thursday, October 30, 2008

Genre: Fiction
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 245
A-Z Reading #46 (O Author)

Iris Lockhart is doing OK. She’s got her vintage clothing shop, the affair with a married lawyer is a bit complicated, but she’s in kind of a ‘wait and see how it goes’ pattern with that. She gets a bit of a shock, however, when she gets a call from a soon to be closing mental hospital telling her that she’s listed in their records as the person responsible for her great aunt who is about to be discharged. Esme Lennox has been locked up in the asylum for over 60 years (since she was 16 years old).

It’s a shock because Iris has no idea that she even has a great aunt. As far as she knows her grandmother was an only child. Unfortunately her grandmother (Kitty) is in the advanced stages of Alzheimers disease and not exactly full of useful information about the woman who is supposedly her sister.

I loved this book. The story is told from multiple viewpoints and the time frame jumps around from Esme’s early life in colonial India to present time and many various points and viewpoints in between. I know some people would find that confusing, but I really enjoyed it. The reader hears from Iris, from Esme as she experiences life outside the institution for the first time since she was young, from Esme as she remembers her past and also from Kitty via her Alzheimer’s-addled memories. Yes it could be confusing, but I found it to be fascinating and engrossing. I didn’t want to put this book down and probably would have read straight through it if I’d picked it up on a quiet weekend.

The story of Esme and Kitty and how Esme came to be institutionalized at a time when unconventional behavior (particularly by women) was just not normal is intriguing. The twists are telegraphed early enough that they weren’t really much of a surprise to me, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book and will definitely be putting Maggie O’Farrell’s other books on my TBR list.


Mary 10/31/2008 3:30 AM  

I really liked this one!

Red lady-Bonnie 10/31/2008 5:49 AM  

I am SO glad that you liked this book! It was one of my favorite books for last year, when I read it. Esme was an interesting character! To realize that this kind of thing happened to a lot of women in reality is unbelieveable.
Any "rebellious" young girl could easily be institutionalized...and this happened not long ago! The author explains why she wrote this book on her website.

I did read another book by the author and it wasn't written in this same style. I didn't enjoy it very much, it was not like Esme! I'll be interested to hear if you read more of her novels and what you think.

Joy 10/31/2008 6:45 AM  

Hooray! This is great to know. I've had her on my radar for quite some time, but like many other wanna reads - I just haven't got there yet. I'm not sure which one I want to begin with though.

SuziQoregon 10/31/2008 6:49 AM  

Mary: me too!!

Bonnie: I really liked it a lot, but I can see why it gets mixed reviews. The style is definitely not for everyone. Do you remember which of her other books you read??

Joy: I liked it a lot. I can understand seeing mixed reviews, though - the multiple viewpoints and continual time shifting is not a style that appeals to everyone.

Kim 10/31/2008 9:28 AM  

Great review! I picked this one at Barnes & Noble when I found it at a great price and absolutely fell in love with the cover!

I'll have to move it up in my TBR pile for sure!

Bookfool 10/31/2008 6:05 PM  

That sounds terrific!

SuziQoregon 10/31/2008 8:25 PM  

Kim: I hope you like it as much as I did.

Bookfool: It's not one that I see having universal appeal, but I liked it a lot.

Sherry 10/31/2008 8:28 PM  

I read this one, but didn't get around to reviewing it. I enjoyed it, but found the ending disconcerting.

Framed 11/01/2008 12:18 PM  

I tried to listen to this on CD and it kept skipping; so I gave up. I'll have to try a written version.

Sherri 11/02/2008 12:12 PM  

I read this book earlier this year and I really liked it. It was horrible how women were treated during that time period. Just makes you glad to be alive during this time period!

samantha.1020 11/02/2008 4:01 PM  

I've heard such good things about this book. Every time that I read a review of it I think that I need to read it sooner rather than later but I still haven't read it yet. Great review!

Teddy Rose 11/02/2008 9:56 PM  

Great review! This one is on my TBR.

Anonymous,  11/03/2008 9:47 AM  

Is the title character "Esme Lennox" an African American woman?

SuziQoregon 11/03/2008 12:07 PM  

Sherry: it was an ending that left me thinking.

Framed: I'm not sure how well this one would come through on audio with the viewpoint and time changes.

Samantha: I've really seen mixed reviews. Hope you like it.

Teddy: Looking forward to hearing what you think of it.

Anonymous: no, she's not.

Red lady-Bonnie 11/04/2008 6:19 PM  

Suzi-I read "After You'd Gone" which was her debut novel. I didn't care for it. It was written in a very different style unlike Esme.

SuziQoregon 11/05/2008 9:03 AM  

Mary: thanks for the heads up !

Booklogged 11/06/2008 9:37 AM  

This sounds really good. I really want to know more about the aunt and why she was in the mental hospital for so many years.

SuziQoregon 11/06/2008 11:48 AM  

Booklogged: it's interesting. I think you'd like this one.

Shana 11/12/2008 6:34 AM  

I really liked this book, too.

I wasn't quite sure what happened in the end!


SuziQoregon 11/16/2008 7:05 AM  

Shana: I can see how the ending could be interpreted differently. I'm pretty sure what I think happened.

jenclair 11/20/2008 5:47 AM  

I liked this one, too!

SuziQoregon 11/20/2008 9:16 AM  

Jenclair: your review helped convince me to read this - thanks!

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment. I read and respond them here although not always right away. If you would prefer an email response let me know.

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