The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Paperback Book

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (16 ratings)


THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX is vintage Maggie O'Farrell: a stunning imagining of a life stolen, and reclaimed. Edinburgh in the 1930s. The Lennox family is having trouble with its youngest daughter. Esme is outspoken, unconventional, and repeatedly embarrasses them in polite society. Something will have to be done. Years later, a young woman named Iris Lockhart receives a letter informing her that she has a great-aunt in a psychiatric unit who is about to be released. Iris has never heard of Esme Lennox and the one person who should know more, her grandmother Kitty, seems unable to answer Iris's questions. What could Esme have done to warrant a lifetime in an institution? And how is it possible for a person to be so completely erased from a family's history?


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Showing 1 - 5 of 16 reviews.

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Told through the points of view of three women, both in the past and present, this book opens starts with great promise. Esme's is a very moving tale - once a young victim of an unforgiving time, now a old woman who has been kept separate from society for too long. Although I enjoyed the book, and how O'Farrell unfolds the story, I felt that the voices of the chraters were not quite well enough defined. That said, the author does have some wonderful turns of phrase, and there are some very poignant moments.I

Review by

I toyed with four stars for this review as the plot is an excellent idea, however I didn't feel anything for the characters so brought it down from 'I liked it' to 'It's okay'. Having not read any of Maggie O'Farrell's novels I had no expectations of what to find between the covers. It is a good book but I found Kitty's ramblings difficult to follow. I know she was suffering from alzheimers disease and the use of a dash at the start of her thoughts was to represent this disjointedness but I felt I couldn't establish a bond with her as a character. The main characters are Iris and Esme (Iris is a descendent of Esme - who is Kitty's sister) and, as with Kitty, I couldn't bond with them. I thought Esme was well written and Iris did change from selfish to considerate towards the end but neither found a place in my emotions. Esme has done very little to warrant a lifetime in Cauldstones, the instution which stole her life and on its closure Iris is contacted as Esme is about to be released. Iris knows nothing about her and is thrown into turmoil whilst trying to sort out her own life, which has become disasterous. She has a strange relationship with her step-brother Alex, one involving love against the families wishes and a relationship with a married man Luke. There was too much faffing with these relationships to focus more on the one that should've been the most important - Esme. All is cleverly revealed within a page at the end of the novel, although the reader could work out certain parts of it throughout. I felt it ended too suddenly and in a rather surprising manner. I hadn't imagined in my head that Esme would be like that from the description that had been established. A tragic life for Esme but I would have liked to have got to know her better as a character. I think this book is either going to be loved by someone or thought to be okay; there isn't a happy medium.

Review by

Interesting twist at the end, but most of the book is a series of quite cliched scenes stitched together. I was hoping that this would be a psychologically acute book about the developing relationship between the two women. But sadly this wasn't the case. There was one scene, I think just before halfway through, where I thought the book was going to take off - a genuinely moving scene where the two women, who've gone to the seaside, sit in a cafe together. But as it transpires there's very little development in the relationship - Iris (the younger woman) never really seems to understand Esme. And I would have loved to read a good writer writing about what it feels like to come out of an asylum where you've been for 60 years, with effectively no contact with the outside world.

Review by

Locked up decades ago for such outlandish behavior as dancing, Esme Lennox is finally released when her asylum is shut down. Esme is thrust into the care of her grand-niece Iris, a modern young women whose struggle to overcome her "unnatural" love for her step-brother gives her more in common with Esme than either could imagine. As Iris tries to unravel the mystery of Esme's existence, she learns more (though ultimately not enough) about her hidden family history, information she never obtained from her Alzheimers-suffering grandmother Kitty. The shocking ending packs a powerful punch, and leaves an indelible mark on the reader. This remarkable novel tells the sad tale of the fate that awaited women who didn't fit society's mold not all that many years ago. Marked, and then punished, by events beyond her control, Esme was locked up at 16 and lived in a virtual prison for her entire life. Iris is also living a life constrained by society's expectations, denying her love of her stepbrother yet unable to form a strong connection with anyone else. The parallel stories highlight the similarities between these two women, but offer hope that Iris will be able to break free in a way Esme never could. From beginning to end this book made me sad and angry by turns, and maintaining that level of intense negative feeling was draining to say the least. Though the ending was like a punch in the gut, I applaud the author's ability to stay true to the tone of the novel (though I might have wished for a happier ending). I also wouldn't have minded another chapter to fill in at the end, but suspect that would have diluted the power of the narrative. I highly recommend reading this book, but not if you're already having a bad day!

Review by

I could not put this book down once I started it. The very first part of the book is a bit confusing, but shortly into it everything starts to make sense. Once I figured out what was going on, I was hooked. I felt so sad for Esme. Her whole life was wasted due to the selfishness of her sister and others. I was happy with the way things ended with Esme and Lily, but I was a bit confused by the last few paragraphs. I wish I better understood what happened to Esme in the end. I would like to say a lot more, but I'm trying hard not to spoil this book for anyone else.

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