Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

Years ago I heard about The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell while listening to NPR. I added it to my "want to read" list and I snatched it up a year or two later when I discovered it at a library book sale for only $3. Three or four years after finding such a great bargain, I finally read it this week. Oh, my. I really shouldn't have waited so long! Esme Lennox is a sixteen-year-old young woman who has just moved with her family to Edinburgh from India where she grew up in a British Colonist community. Always a bit different from girls her age, this is exponentially more obvious (and troublesome) once she begins attending school in Scotland. Having a daughter who doesn't fit it with her peers, like the same things they like, and want nothing more than to be married makes Esme's parents very unhappy. In a time where a woman could be committed to a mental hospital on only the recommendation of her father and her doctor, Esme is banished to just such a place with no one to speak up for her. Sixty-one years later (!!) the hospital is closing and the administration contacts Esme's next of kin, Iris, her great-niece. Iris has never heard of Esme and has always believed that her grandmother was an only child; believed it because it is exactly what her grandmother always told her.

Oh, my! What a book! Esme has the misfortune of independent thought at at time when women were just not allowed such things. Her character is wonderfully written, as is her sister, Kitty. We see only fractured bits of Kitty as she is an old woman suffering from Alzheimer's. Iris is slightly less interesting, but only when compared with how much Esme captured my attention.

I sped through this book and it was so difficult to put down. It was slightly dark, mysterious and full of drama. There are so many things that aren't explained and that are left to the reader's imagination. I think there is far more to Esme than the author reveals, but I can't be sure what exactly that might be. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I do hope you'll read it.

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