[Review] The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

Title: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Page: 277 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Subject: Family Secrets, Psychological Fiction, Domestic Fiction
First Published: 2006

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?

- Synopsis from book cover

This book was recommended to me by a fellow book blogger in response to my post about The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry. Both books have similar theme: an old woman stuck in a psychiatric hospital and a decades-long family secret. (You know I dig that kind of stories!)

Just like The Secret Scripture, this book was unputdownable—and if only I had all the time in the world, I would have finished it in a few hours! Nevertheless, I finished it in one-and-a-half days. From the very first page, first paragraph and first sentence, it was as if this book has some magical power that held me in and before I knew it, I was lost in the story of Esme Lennox’s devastating circumstance and misfortune.

The writing was commendable. It was different, not like anything I have read before. The first page really puts me into the situation and by the style of the writing, it was not very hard to conjure up the scene in my mind. And it definitely set the mood for what’s to come later.

Let us begin with two girls at a dance. 
They are at the edge of the room. One sits on a chair, opening and shutting a dance-card with gloved fingers. The other stands beside her, watching the dance unfold: the circling couples, the clasped hands, the drumming shoes, the whirling skirts, the bounce of the floor. Is is the last hour of the year and the windows behind them are blank with night. The seated girl is dressed in something pale, Esme forgets what, the other in a dark red frock that doesn’t suit her. She has lost her gloves. It begins here. (pg. 1)

Maggie O’Farrell had not just written a beautiful story but an important one too. The story posed some issues of the past, particularly on society and the lack of opportunities for women. Individuals who did not conform to the stereotypical expectations may suffer the consequences and shunned away from the society. I was penned up with emotions, saddened and angered by the injustice that befell Esme.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox  is a haunting tale about the extend of human jealousy and betrayal. I can’t recommend it enough!


I've not read any Maggie O'Farrell but I always pick up her books and look at them in the shop. This one does sound very good. I've taken your recommendation and put it on my wishlist :)
Jenna said…
Family secrets usually make for great fiction. I like the opening quote. It really draws the reader in...very simple but telling. Definitely grabbed my attention, and I'm adding this one to my list. Great review.