Another book with no chapters? This was my first thought as I approached The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. The third such book I had read in as many weeks, I'm beginning to think that chapters are going out of vogue. For the record, I like chapters. They let you know that it really is time to put down the book and go fix dinner. Without them, I just keep reading and people in my house go hungry. So for any authors who are reading this, everyone in my house likes chapters too.
Once I got over that, however, this book enthralled me. Imagine learning that you have a great-aunt who you never knew existed. The aunt has spent the last 61 years in a mental institution. The hospital is closing and the aunt is being discharged. You are asked "What would you like to do with her?" "Huh? What?" I don't think most of us would be very well equipped to deal with this situation.
This tightly written tale by Maggie O'Farrell shows us this part of the story, but also the aunt's life and what transpired to lead to these circumstances.
Chris and I had fun discussing this book, and my daughter was intrigued by my description so she picked it up and read it right away too.
Other than one problematic element (and the fact that the cover does not match the descriptions in the book--a personal pet peeve of mine), we all found the book fascinating. This is a quick read-in-an-afternoon book.
We get three different narrative perspectives in the story: the niece's, Esme's, and Esme's sister. The sister is in a nursing home for Alzheimer patients. Her repetitious loop of thoughts is quite interesting as she fixates on certain key memories that enlighten the reader; she gives us a perspective that Esme doesn't have.
Without giving away the story, this is a story of betrayal. We were all dumbfounded at the complete betrayal of Esme. I'm currently reading another story (One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd) where the main character had been committed to an insane asylum by her family. How common a practice was this, I have to wonder. I know that family members can drive us a little batty sometimes, but that's pretty extreme, don't you think? As a plot device, there's NO way that this doesn't lead to hard feelings among characters!
Chris and I both felt that the niece's personal story, which involves some pretty messy relationships, was more of a distraction than an asset to the story. I kept wanting her story to somehow make her more sympathetic to Esme, but that isn't what it's all about, so I still wonder why O'Farrell added it.
O'Farrell's ending is quite spectacular, and it left me wondering what happened from there. Chris, on the other hand, found the ending so beautifully written that she didn't question what happened next. But when we talked about it, and when my daughter finished, we all agreed on what we thought happened from there, so maybe that was O'Farrell's intent. We would love to hear what you think.