Skip to main content

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell



Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.

~~Emily Dickinson

This poem, along with a quote from Edith Wharton, appears at the beginning of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (2008) and, between them, completely summarize the book. Even so, O'Farrell makes the unfolding of the story worth following, however painful to read.

Iris Lockhart, a self-absorbed (my opinion here) woman living what she thinks is a life of freedom and independence (yet not even living the life she truly wants), learns that her grandmother Kitty, now suffering from Alzheimer's, isn't the only child Iris always believed. Kitty has a sister, Esme, living in an insane asylum, a place about to close. Iris is listed as the next-of-kin, and she needs to make decisions for a great-aunt she didn't even know existed.

We learn the story of what happened in the past to lead to Esme's incarceration mostly through Kitty's rambling, non-cohesive thoughts and memories and a little through Esme's memories.

Everything hit the point of no return when Esme's beloved baby brother and nanny die of typhoid fever in India, and she spends days alone with their bodies while her parents (as if they deserve to be called that) and Kitty vacation without them. The family returns to Scotland, and Esme is literally punished for talking about her brother. He's never mentioned again by the rest of the family, as though he never existed--yes, just a bit of foreshadowing there.

Between repressing her grief about her brother and the way that Kitty abandons her as Kitty becomes more and more like their parents, Esme becomes increasingly "different" and labeled as "oddball." Then two events on the same night when Esme is sixteen cause her parents to wrongfully commit her to an insane asylum, a place, in those days, one wouldn't send a rabid dog.

And there she stays for over sixty years, a number Esme can mark to the day, without even a visitor until Iris, who will have her entire life altered by spending a weekend with Esme.

With the possibly inevitable ending coming, I kept hoping for a miracle for Esme. Not possible, of course, after spending the majority of her life institutionalized.

This time, however short the remainder of her life may be, one just hopes that having Iris in her life is enough to at least keep Esme from being alone, as she was for over sixty years. And, yes, even though she's a fictional character, she seems that real.

I can't say enough how much I loved this book, and I can certainly see now why everyone in the U.S. seemed to be reading the book last summer.

To learn more, including reading a sample chapter, visit the author's site here.

My overall personal rating of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is an A.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

The May selection for my work book club is Jon McGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002). The novel follows various individuals in one neighborhood on a particular day, an ordinary day that ends with a terrible tragedy.

Here's the short set of questions I e-mailed to book club members yesterday, along with my own responses.

Did you have a favorite character, or one that spoke to you the most? Who and why?
The father with the burned hands is the one who stayed with me the most after reading the book.

Did you notice that the day on which the events unfold is actually the same day that Diana, Princess of Wales, died? Does knowing that make any difference in how you see the story? I wouldn't have made the connection if I hadn't just watched some of the coverage of the Royal Wedding. To quote the author, he chose this particular day because his novel is about how ". . .everyday miracles of life and death go unwitnessed in favor of celebrity and sensati…

Current Little Pleasures

Girls' weekend in Omaha with Maya and her friend.

Happy Buddha:  Sweet Orange and Cedar Shower Foam from RITUALS

Time for iced or blended peppermint mochas.

Shopping for little gifts for Maya's Japanese pen pal.  They were matched through their schools, and we're hoping she can stay with us for a few days this summer.

The flock of wild turkeys, foxes, and other assorted wildlife entertaining us this fall.

Thanksgiving plans to visit my sister.

Hallmark Channel's Countdown to Christmas is back!

Current Little Pleasures

Christmas Keepsake Week, July 14-23, filled with Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel.

Sending Christmas (in July) cards with a Peace greeting to some of my favorite people.  Why not??

Scott Tube Free Toilet Paper--nothing to recycle.

Haagen-Dazs Coffee Ice Cream--always!

Baby Driver movie.

Seeing photos from my sisters and niece on Facebook during their Italy trip.  I can't imagine they will want to come back home!

What are your current little pleasures?