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The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

The Vanishers

by Heidi Julavits

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"I imagined the dread and hopelessness suffered by the person who'd vanished so many times there was no place else to go. She was known to everyone."--from The Vanishers

I finished The Vanishers last night and it is still all I can think about today. A wild, weird, amazing read with a main character so messed up by life you might find her annoying in less skilled hands than Heidi Julavits', this novel will haunt you long after you have finished the last page.

Don't let the psychic background turn you off if you prefer your novels spiked with lots of reality. The universal themes that run throughout The Vanishers definitely keep the supernatural threads from undermining any credibility on the writer's part or ability to suspend disbelief on the reader's end. Instead you (if you have any heart at all) will find yourself feeling for Julia Severn as she battles a psychic onslaught from her mentor and deals with her lifelong sense of missing a mother she never knew and for whom she has no idea how to grieve.

Part mystery, part David Lynchian head trip, all heart, The Vanishers examines how women can wreak havoc on each other emotionally and physically.

I found myself so fascinated (magnetized, really) by this book that I continually jotted down my favorite quotes. Heidi Julavits is a marvelous writer who makes you think...and hate to see the book end.

( )
  booksandcats4ever | Jul 30, 2018 |
The Vanishers is a fantastic novel, using absurdist humor to explore grief and illness. Julavits has some interesting things to say about illness, our perception of illness, and our perception of our own emotional lives. The tempo of the thriller / mystery novel allows you to get pretty deep into the protagonist's mind, laughing at her hapless adventures (As this unusual customer beelined for my desk, however, she caught her toe on the corner of the jute rug and departed the floor, kraft tray outstretched and then released so that it collided with my chest as I'd been uttering in Arabic to no one, "I'll transfer you to the sales department." p. 50) and then suddenly you realize that you're having a great many insights into the nature of emotion. I particularly liked the description of anger as women often conceive of it — something ugly, feral, something that must be defended against, something that originates from the hate and jealously of other people.

There was some material about performance art and mid-century modern furniture; if I happened to share those particular interests, this probably would have been one of my favorite novels of all time. Sadly, I know nothing about either. So we'll call it 4/5 stars for fantastic writing, unerring humor, an intelligent message about the human condition, and if you know what a Barcelona chair is, boy are you in for a treat. ( )
  bexaplex | Apr 29, 2018 |
Julia is a student at a special institute for psychics. She is under the tutelage of Madame Ackerman, a renowned psychic at the institute who begins to suspect that Julia's powers are underestimated and proceeds to take advantage of her, as well as pressing for details of Julia's mother's death by suicide when Julia was just an infant. Soon after, Julia suffers a "psychic attack" and becomes physically and emotionally ill. As she struggles to make sense of things, new people begin entering her life and odd things begin to surface.

I really had no idea what I was getting into when I started reading this one. My plot summary sounds confusing, but that's because this novel is just that: confusing. My head was spinning a large portion of the time, trying to make sense of what I was reading. It's an odd story with a very surreal element. And yet. Normally I would blow this off as too weird and just move along, but it was intriguing enough to keep me reading. The story was kind of wacko, but the writing was good. This is one of those novels that will either appeal to you or it won't, even though I sort of fell somewhere in the middle. ( )
  indygo88 | Nov 6, 2017 |
This is a very strange book that doesn't hold together completely but I really liked it. I'm not sure I could recommend it because it seems so particular to a person and mood, not for everyone. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
This was recommended to me, and I didn't like it at all in the beginning but kept reading it to see why it was recommended. It did get better as it went along, but I probably wouldn't recommend it to anyone. It's about a woman with psychic abilities who goes to a school to develop these abilities, and how she is psychically attacked and develops an illness for a year. She then gets involved with some people who supposedly want to help her but are actually using her. Her mother committed suicide when she was only a month old and this resurfaces throughout the book. It's a very strange concept overall, and kind of convoluted and hard to figure out. ( )
  cindyb29 | Jan 13, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385523815, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2012: The Vanishers is a lot of things: a paranormal detective story, an affecting exposition of familial and female dynamics, and a hilarious satire of academic politics. Here, Heidi Julavits has crafted a novel that is as ambitious as it is strange. After angering her jealous mentor, Julia, an up-and-coming psychic, is exiled from the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology, an elite psychic academy dubbed the Workshop. Subjected to a "psychic attack," Julia is crippled of her powers, until she receives an offer she can't refuse: to team up with her mentor's academic rival to get revenge, while seeking out a mysterious filmmaker who may have a connection to Julia's dead mother. It's a bizarre adventure that takes her to a recovery facility for victims of psychic attacks and which doubles as a spa for plastic surgery patients. Beneath The Vanishers’ quirky, metaphysical charms is a dark, Freudian undercurrent--Julia can’t help comparing her mother’s suicide to Sylvia Plath's--that surfaces at the very end in a satisfying, thrilling twist. The Vanishers is a truly unique, thoroughly imagined astral mystery. --Kevin Nguyen

Featured Guest Review: Karen Russell on The Vanishers

Karen Russell is the author of the short story collection St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and the novel Swamplandia!, named one of New York Times' Top Ten Best Books of 2011.

Julia Severn, an initiate at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology and stenographer to the great seer, Madame Ackermann (a recipient of "the occult equivalent of a MacArthur"), has a lot of raw talent. So much, in fact, that the relationship between mentor and protégé quickly sinks into hostile territory when Madame Ackermann taunts Julia with specters of her late mother. After a game of mental telepathy goes awry (forget Twister," these party games the academic psychics play, they are high stakes), Julia finds herself abstractly ill, undiagnosable and unable to continue her studies with Madame Ackermann.

Julia heads to New York, where she meets Alwyn, a young woman who has "vanished" herself, leaving her family without a clue as to her whereabouts; and Colophon Martin, a one-time employer and current adversary of Madame Ackermann. They theorize that all of Julia's strange symptoms can be traced back to her former mentor: Julia is suffering from a psychic attack launched by the jealous Madame. Colophon urges Julia to check herself into Vienna's Goergen Asylum, a cavernous Art Nouveau spa for patients wishing to recover in secret from plastic surgeries, and for the vanished victims of psychic attack.

On the surface, The Vanishers is about two paranormal scholars with the ability to carry out perplexing psychic attacks on their adversaries, and it is without a doubt a chilling metaphysical mystery. But it's also a totally delightful satire of academia, where email attachments can carry luminous pathogens and psychic warfare might at any moment erupt near an Institute cheese plate; it's a medical horror story that will be intimately familiar to anyone who has ever been sick with something that resists names and medicines; and it's a darkly hilarious send-up of spa culture and the various forms of amnesia, facial disguises, and self-erasure bottled and sold to us by the "health and beauty" industry.

The Vanishers delivers pretty much every pleasure a reader could ask for, and its unusual framework weaves together the powerful themes that dominate Julavits's other novels--it gives fresh expression to the experience of grief, of mourning for one's mother and for one's vanished self, of the fraught bonds between women and the twisted consequences of female rivalry and the games that people play with one another. I was amazed by the language in The Vanishers, at Julavits's gift for distilling complex desires, dream and emotion, and certain interior experiences that I had believed to be beyond articulation, into prose of shocking beauty and originality.

The Vanishers is an absolute masterpiece. Julavits takes readers on a wild ride that hops continents and decades, but the real setting is the grey territory between sickness and health, sanity and delusion, love and hatred, life and death.

One thing is certain, you will never think of "mental health" in the same way again.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:49 -0400)

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A power struggle between a leading student at an elite institute for psychics and her jealous legendary mentor culminates in the student being forced to relive her mother's suicide during a brutal psychic attack.

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