The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (Maggie O’Farrell)

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a novel by Maggie O’Farrell.

Iris gets a call from a nearby psychiatric facility that’s closing down: Apparently she has a great-aunt Esme she’s never heard of and since the facility, where Esme has spent the last 60 years, can’t take care of her anymore, Iris should decide what to do with her. Iris is understandably surprised and tries to understand what happened all that time ago that Esme was basically shoved into a closet and forgotten by the rest of the family. Was Esme really crazy? Or was she just too unruly for a woman in the 30s?

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a short read and an interesting one. It’s likeable enough and well-written, but I’m not falling over myself in excitement after having read it.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a book that’s got “literary fiction” basically painted on its cover. And it’s one of the books where you keep thinking that if it had fantastic elements, it would probably be generally considered “nice”, but since it’s literary fiction, it has to be “deep and meaningful.”

Well. It’s a nice book that tries hard to deserve the deep and meaningful description, but falls a little short of it – though at least not in an obnoxious way. There are passages where I kept seeing the author in my mind’s eye, congratulating herself on a particular phrase or her clever symbolism, which would have been incredibly annoying if it had happened more often. But in the actual frequency it was easy to overlook or just react with a small shake of the head as if it was a good friend’s tic: you notice but you don’t care that much.

The story itself was interesting, full of plot twists not all of which I saw coming. I also liked the characters (though I didn’t love them) and the writing style, apart from the few moments I mentioned above), was generally very good.

O’Farrell writes from three perspectives: Iris’, Esme’s and Kitty’s (Esme’s sister and Iris’ grandmother). I found Kitty’s passages especially interesting because she has Alzheimer’s and O’Farrell tries to capture that. I have no idea, of course, what the mind of an Alzheimer patient looks like, but the way O’Farrell describes it sounds at least plausible. It’s also apparent that she at least did her research, if not knows somebody who has it. Kitty’s behavior in that regard is very realistic.

Summarising: very readable, especially if you’re in the mood for something rather easy without it being stupid.

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