Saturday, December 20, 2008


The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O'Farrell, Harcourt Inc, 2006, 245 pp

This chilling novel falls in the category of crimes against and by women. Esme Lennox was a young girl and woman who simply did not fit in with what was expected by her culture. When she reached young womanhood and her family needed her to make a good marriage to save their financial and social standing, she dramatized her final rebellion. For that she was committed to a mental institution by her father with her mother's consent. From that point on, no one in the family spoke of her. She had been vanished.

Sixty-one years later in late 20th century Edinburgh, mental institutions are being closed down. Inmates with no family are simply dumped back into society. But Esme has a great-niece, a young independent single woman who has never known that she had a great aunt. When Iris is contacted by the institution, she is faced with devastating decisions and must unravel the mystery of her family.

The novel is exceedingly well done. Set in the present with the back story coming out bit by bit, the horror of the story, the extreme twistedness of the characters and the inhumane attitudes toward a woman such as Esme drilled into my heart. Though I have known about such abuses for a long time, I felt shattered by this story. Who needs Stephen King when we have writers like Maggie O'Farrell? Apparently the horrors that mankind can dream up and then inflict on each other transcend any invented ones.

The real secret of the novel though is in the writing and in the delicate, tasteful way that all is finally revealed. You can suppress and twist the human spirit but you cannot eliminate it.

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