- File Size: 933 KB
- Print Length: 290 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books (June 2, 2008)
- Publication Date: June 2, 2008
- Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Language: English
- ASIN: B003K16P8C
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,858 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox Kindle Edition
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"Almost ridiculously pleasurable . . . shocking, heartbreaking, and fascinating." --The Times (London)
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the paperback edition.
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This book is told through the eyes of Esme Lennox, who has been in an asylum for over 60 years, her older sister Kitty, who is slipping away due to Alzheimer's, and Iris. Iris is Kitty's granddaughter and is shocked to learn that Kitty had a sister. While growing up, Iris always thought that Kitty was an "only." The asylum housing Esme is closing and Iris is contacted as the person responsible for Esme's care.
O'Farrell's uses language the way a painter applies paint to a canvas. To me, Esme was a child who loved life and did not enjoy the rules that applied to a girl from a well-bred family. She was her own person, and that ended up causing trouble and heartbreak.
The men in Iris' life also bring her own personal issues to the forefront. The story unfolds and folds back upon itself until it all makes sense. There are hints throughout that other issues are at play, and one must read carefully to see them all.
I don't like to give spoilers, so am not willing to give more plot points. I do say that this is one book that hovered over me for days after I finished reading it. It was bittersweet and heart breaking in so many ways, but I know I will read it again.
The book was recommended to me (and others) by more than one amazon friend, so I went for it and did not regret it. Normally my liking or disliking of a book is determined first and foremost by the language, i.e. the `style', the words, the sentences, the verbal images, etc. You know. On that basis, O'Farrell won me over quickly. She might be among the writers who could recite me a telephone book and keep me interested.
The story, the content, the subject are often secondary for me. Of course a well written book about absolutely nothing is of limited attraction, though it will surely find a market. An interesting subject that is badly written about will have lost me quickly. I will look for another source or just give up on books and go to the net. O'Farrell writes well about a high interest story.
Her story could be told in a dozen different ways, and some of those would make it trivial, trashy, boring, or sensationalist. It is quite sensational, actually: an old woman is released from a mental asylum after 60 years, because the place shuts down. She is released to a grandniece who never knew that her grandmother had a sister. The woman, the Esme of the title, lives in the past, which she revisits in bits and pieces of memory, like film scenes, but she is also awake to the here and now.
The story is set in Scotland, with a past in India and present tentacles (family) in Australia. It was published in 2006. It is hard to believe that such cases could happen, but the author is positive about it. What has poor Esme done? When she was sixteen, she had unusual opinions and ideas, and she was in the way of an elder sister about boys, and had too much of an own mind for her parents' taste anyway. Was it really so easy to get rid of someone?
The narrator takes multiple standpoints: in the present time with either the grandniece (Iris) or with Esme; in the past with either Esme or her sister Kitty (Iris' now demented grandmother). The narrative complexity is not over-done, O'Farrell is not out to confuse you. Her style and narrative structure have turned a potentially pulpy story into an excellent concise thriller. Its main strength is its courage to not explain everything (which is frequently the main mistake of bad writers).
Top international reviews
Her family just didn't appreciate nor try to understand their youngest daughter's spirit and zest for life. Nor why she changed or bother to find out what really changed her. Such a great shame. She was sixteen and apart from other things that happened to her she was also just......heartbroken.
Iris, the great-niece is another nice character although I wasn't keen on her always referring to the dog without giving him a name. Though she did look after him properly, I suppose.
I chuckled at the lefthanders' fact that was mentioned-I had no idea ! I liked the passage about inherited features as well.
I did get very confused when we encountered Kitty the grandmother but once I realised who was talking I managed to figure her speech patterns out just fine. It just threw me a bit when she popped up. Another couple of things I never really understood were the significance of the school blazer or the beach incident.
I was very angry by something mentioned near the end and really quite upset on Esme's behalf but I can't say more as I won't do spoilers and it's very hard not to here. It was a strange ending. I hadn't realised I'd finished till it asked me to Tweet my review !!
I also need to point out that were no mistakes !!! So even more of a pleasure for this reader. I'll certainly be putting more of her stories in my wishlist.
It took me a while to let these characters go and pick up another book. I didn't want to say goodbye.
I really enjoyed this book and had to keep turning the pages to learn more. Perhaps there were not too many surprises and maybe some events were predictable but nonetheless it is about the darker side of social history that we should never ignore or forget and it is immensely readable.
It's the haunting, desperately sad but beautiful story of a young girl who ends up in a mental hospital, cut off from her life and family, and stays there for 60+ years. As the story unfolds you start seeing the whys, wheres and hows of her plight.
The writing is exquisite. Wonderfully descriptive but not so much that it interferes with the pace of the story telling.
The structure of the book kept me gripped: there are no chapters and the three perspectives change through line breaks. Despite that, not at all jarring. It's a present tense narration and it's very clear whose perspective you're with at any given time. The only thing that took me a little while to figure out was the voice of Kitty but I soon got my head around that and it all made perfect sense when I finished it.
The ending was very fitting and satisfying, if a little upsetting.
I loved it! Read it in pretty much 2 sittings and I'm very glad I did.
Iris gets a phone call to say that a great aunt she never knew existed is being released from a former 'asylum' after 60 years. She offers to take the great aunt to a temporary home until her next place is ready. She'd read the hospital notes and couldn't believe why her aunt had been committed. When she gets there she can't leave her aunt there and takes her home.
Her grandmother is in a home suffering with dementia and she hasn't seen her sister since she was committed.
The story unfurls told from three points of view- which I didn't find easy to follow on kindle. We are left to make our own minds up about what happens. Overall I did enjoy the book- I just felt I'd have liked a bit more from it
It gives the reader a great insight to what it was like for wealthy children to grow up in the colonies and their subsequent return 'home'.
Maggie did a wonderful job of painting the personalities of Esme and Kitty and their link to Iris.
Many years after Esme and Kitty have grown-up, Iris receives a letter about Esme. She has no idea who she is and how she is related to her or why she has never heard of her. This leads a journey of discovery for Iris to find out why Esme was erased from her family history.
This was a fantastic book. I have ready it twice already. You won't want to put this book down.
It is, however, very well written.
Very early in her childhood Esme has been traumatised by the death of a sibling – no one understands and she becomes ‘difficult’.
The family move from their cosseted Colonial life in India to cold, draughty Edinburgh.
We begin to feel Iris’s growing outrage as she learns how 1930s upper middle-class society imposed bigoted rules that had a damaging and adverse effect on people’s lives. Young Esme is gifted, creative, a free spirit – her parents see her as a rebellious naughty child. Her talents are unappreciated and squashed.
Esme and her sister are urged to aspire to a ‘good’ marriage – anathema to Esme.
Esme continues her rebellion and is finally “put away for her own good” - consigned to a mental institution. Her elders are satisfied and Kitty lives her life within the confines of society.
Iris ferrets away unearthing the past – she reveals Esme’s story to us leading us to a shocking conclusion.
Bitter sweet but full of love emotion and a time when people got away with so much they shouldn’t have. It deals with a girl Living in present day who hears she has an aged relative esme in an institution . The story is really about Esme her life and those around her in the twenties and thirties and how she came to be in institution
You will love Esme and all the characters
A great read with a very interesting ending. Loved it from start to finish.
However, I appreciate that it is a devise through which the novel unfolds.And I thought that it was a story which needed telling, revealing as it does how appallingly people were allowed to be treated in the not so very distant past. We are used to hearing how women who didn't "fit in" with societal norms in previous centuries were considered witches. But we don't think of it being sanctioned so recently. Or so cruelly. Or without due process, appeal etc.
And clearly, to many women who had endured trauma of some sort.
I could be very wrong but, although other reviewers have suggested that she may have had a mental illness or autism, I myself did not see it. Albeit that Esme was not a compliant, conformist child and parenting her could probably have been challenging in this day and age, never mind at the time.
Although the book concentrates on Esme's almost inconceivable plight, to me, to me it also threw up all sorts of other issues - and conjecture including about the more minor characters in the book.
Her mother clearly lost one child [Hugo] and sounds like she endured a number of other still-births or miscarriages. This cannot but have impacted on her psychologically, as well as on her [emotional] relationship with Kitty and Esme, particularly in an era when compliance with social norms was expected and children's behaviour was considered a reflection of their parenting. Keeping the upper lip in such circumstances must have been a mountain to climb - every day.
Kitty's conjugal relationship is another theme and again her husband is not a major part of the book. Iris's mother is mentioned very little and one wonders what their relationship was like, given that Iris's father's death and its impact is barely touched upon, but her mother's relationship with Alex's father has long lasting consequences.
I find it interesting that - in a different time and place - Alex, a man, did not go along with his father's wishes. In doing so, the result was that he managed to negotiate his terms. It draws the obvious comparator, would not Esme have fared better as a man? Even Jamie commented that Esme would be equal to a man in a marital relationship.
Interestingly, Jamie - ostensibly [to Society] a conformist - is attracted to someone who is not. And his mother, another minor character, seemingly connives to protect him, without any apparent compassion. Or, in that era, would the situation only have reflected badly on Esme - and her prospects - anyway. Could her [misguided] motivation even have included preventing Esme making a scene - from which she would have doubtlessly come out badly - as well as her social occasion?
A good read. And one I would recommend.
As the story unfolds, we are told of the spirited, independent girl Esme was, and how her rebellion and ultimate " disgrace" persuaded her strict authoritarian father to abandon her to a mental institution, where the rest of life was spent.. This is a tragic tale, and Esme's fate was shared by many other young women of her generation. It is a story of dreadful loss, and the heartbreaking waste of a life which had once shown so much promise, simply because Esme refused to conform.
The other main character is Esme's sister, Kitty, who was more conventional and obedient and thus spared Esme's fate. Their father managed to prevent contact between the sisters, and so Esme lost the one person upon whom she relied, and was entirely alone until her meeting with Iris.
I absolutely loved this novel. It is beautifully written, and like some other reviewers, I only wish it could have been longer. There is certainly enough material. My only other reservation is the rather sudden intervention of snippets of narrative from Kitty's point of view. The first of these appeared so abruptly that for a while I was confused. But this didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book and a recommend it unreservedly.