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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox Paperback – June 2, 2008

4.0 out of 5 stars 349 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. O'Farrell (After You'd Gone) delivers an intricate, eloquent novel of family malice, longings and betrayal. Slim, stylish Iris Lockhart runs a dress shop in contemporary Edinburgh when she's not flirting with her stepbrother Alex or rendezvousing with her married attorney lover, Luke. Esme Lennox, meanwhile, is ready to be discharged from the soon-to-be-closed psychiatric hospital where she's been a patient (read: virtual prisoner) for 61 years. Iris becomes aware of Esme's existence when she's informed, to her disbelief, that she has been granted power of attorney over Esme by Kitty Lockhart, Iris's Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother. It turns out Kitty and Esme are sisters, but Kitty kept quiet about Esme after she was hospitalized at age 16. Layer upon layer of Lockhart family secrets are laid bare—the truth behind Esme's institutionalization, why her existence was kept a secret, and a twist involving Iris's parents—as Iris mulls over what to do with her new charge, and Esme and Kitty reconnect. O'Farrell maintains a high level of tension throughout, and the conclusion is devastating. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Flosnik’s light British tones enhance O’Farrell’s fourth novel, which spans generations and continents. The tale takes listeners back in time to India as well as to contemporary Scotland. Thirtysomething Iris Lockhart learns that she has power of attorney for Esme Lennox, an elderly relative who is soon to be released from a mental institution where she has been a resident for more than 60 years. Prior to the notice, Lockhart never knew of the existence of Lennox, who is the sister of Lockhart’s grandmother, now afflicted with Alzheimer’s. Flosnik reads flashbacks, flash-forwards, and shifting narrative viewpoints with ease. Her intonations darken delicately around the edges when Lockhart learns of the shameful treatment Lennox received, and her voice nimbly brightens when recounting Lennox’s happier teenage years. She is also particularly effective in her portrayal of the grandmother, whose Alzheimer’s-impaired memories shimmer like heat lightning and then disappear. --Whitney Scott --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 245 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books/Harcourt; 1st Thus. edition (June 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156033674
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156033671
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (349 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julia Flyte TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Esme Lennox is a spirited girl who does not conform to 1930's society norms and so is locked up by her family in a mental asylum. "Insists on keeping her hair long", reads her record of admission. "Dances before a mirror dressed in her mother's clothes". Like The Memory Keeper's Daughter, the book begins with an act that would be unthinkable today but which was considered perfectly appropriate at the time. Sixty years later, her great niece, Iris, receives a phone call to tell her that the asylum is closing and she needs to take responsibility for her grandmother's sister - which is the first time that she has ever heard of Esme. Of Esme's family, only her sister Kitty (Iris's grandmother) is still alive, and she has Alzheimer's.

This is an interesting and moving story. Esme is a wonderful character and I felt sad and angry by the way that she had been cheated out of her life. I also liked Iris (though would have preferred less emphasis on her relationships with the men in her life and more on her relationship with Esme). The narrative jumps between Iris, Esme in the present day, Esme and Kitty as children and Kitty in the present day. It took me a while to get my head round the various strands. Kitty has Alzheimer's so her sections are written in a rambling stream of consciousness, which take a little getting used to but which is quite effective.

The ending is somewhat rushed and vaguely written. But it still packs a punch. It's one that you want to discuss with others. Overall this is a very good read that stays with you for some time.

If you enjoyed this book, I recommend The Secret Scripture which is also about a woman locked away in a mental asylum many years ago for spurious reasons.
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Format: Hardcover
Maggie O'Farrell's novel is a delicately told tale of indelicate acts. Young and single Iris has a love life fraught with taboos and an ordinary routine that preserves both her independence and her anonymity. When she receives a call from a local mental institution that she is the sole surviving heir of a great-aunt she has never heard of and who has been removed from society for sixty years, her life begins its slow unraveling. The institution is closing, and the mystery woman, Euphemia Lennox, has no place to go. Iris and Euphemia (who calls herself Esme) begin a fragile relationship as Iris struggles to juggle both her need for personal space and her guilt. Meanwhile, Esme has her own goals.

In fine, exact language, this slim novel unfolds through the fractured point-of-views of Iris, Esme, and Iris's grandmother Kitty, who suffers from Alzheimer's. The narrative is structured like a jigsaw puzzle, with bits of information judiciously offered until the whole picture is assembled. Unfortunately, the "secret" behind Esme's confinement and Kitty's guilt is a little too predictable, and the final act of the novel seems somewhat over-the-top and therefore not as satisfying as one might like. Still, O'Farrell's handling of the story and its issues is both evocative and authoritative.

Readers interested in the changing expectations of women may be intrigued by the author's premise that, while gender expectations may change over generations, women who rebel against society's rules still do so at personal cost. Because this book is not told in a straightforward narrative, casual readers may be frustrated trying to figure out what is happening, but readers of more serious fiction will find it both accessible and a quick read. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a good, but not great, book - the perfect book for an evening or two by the fire.
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Format: Hardcover
SPOILERS ALERT: This book tracks, out of chronological order, the destructive effect an intolerant, narrow-minded family has not only on their scapegoated daughter, who may have some sort of learning disability (perhaps ADHD) but is hardly psychotic--at first--but also on their favored daughter. As others have pointed out, you can guess most of the "secrets" well ahead of the end if the book, but I don't think that's its point. I think it's more that the evil parents do lives after them, and Kitty's compounded failures towards Esme seem may be initiated by romantic rivalry, but that's just the trigger after years of accumulated frustration of being unable to protect her from either parents or bullying schoolmates--eventually Kitty just identifies with the aggressors and accepts the conventional view of all things, including Esme. The consequences for Esme are horrific, particularly when we can guess that if she entered art school or drama school she'd probably fit right in, but Kitty's marriage and future happiness are also doomed by her inability to rebel, just as Esme is doomed by her inability to comply. The book explores how when one family member is scapegoated, other members are also permanently damaged by being forced to witness or participate in the scapegoating: nobody wins. The readers who view the ending as someone who "got away with it" for years finally getting just deserts have missed the point that this tragedy was set in motion years ago by parents and doctors who got young girls to say what they wanted to hear, and then left them to bear the consequences. And as tempting as it is to stop there, one need only refer to Larkins' "This Be the Verse" to see that the damage affects more than one generation.Read more ›
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