Wednesday, January 02, 2008
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
I read The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. Wow. After I finished it, I sort of sat for a few minutes, then decided I needed to read something fluffy (Died in the Wool by Mary Kruger--thank you, Holly!!!). This is a rather slim (under 250 pages), poetic novel about family secrets and betrayal. It was literally relentless, with no chapter breaks, which made it even more difficult to put down. Three voices are balanced (ambitious for such a short book): Iris, a young woman who discovers she has a great-aunt in an institution (for whom she is now responsible), Esme, a woman committed to an asylum over 60 years ago as a young woman for being difficult and inconvenient for her family, and Kitty, Esme's sister who is now afflicted with Alzheimer's, and always spoke of being an only child. This could easily have been a mess of a book in less capable hands. O'Farrell's writing is stunning and she handles the three voices brilliantly. The book doesn't so much have plot twists as revelations that gradually tease out family secrets to reveal the betrayals of Iris's family. The pacing is flawless. I wanted to find out what had happened, but I didn't really want the book to end. It's haunting and horrifying and beautiful. I can't recommend it enough. To my delight, O'Farrell has written three previous novels, which I will have to look into.