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The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

The Vanishers

by Heidi Julavits

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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 |
Imagine an emotional story in which a promise never to forgive is a demonstration of love, where a young woman keeps meeting and encountering mysterious older women (who may or may not have her interests at heart), here on Earth and on the astral plane. Imagine an irreverent, acerbic young woman, by turns evasive and brutally honest, with high psychic ability, and her search for her dead mother. You might come close to Heidi Julavits’s The Vanishers.

Young Julia Severn matriculates at The Workshop, a college-level institution for training psychics. She proves to have a little too much ability for the star instructor, who punishes her with a psychic “attack” and sends her away from the school. Julia travels to Paris and Vienna, where she is incarcerated, sort of, in a spa for her health. She encounters a series of characters who each want to use Julia and her abilities for their own ends. Her main occupation during this time is to try to ferret out the existence and/or location of an avant-garde feminist film director, who may or may not be alive.

The overarching story does not have a convoluted plot; the energy in the narrative stems from the roller coaster ride that is Julia’s internal life. She sees scenes and encounters people both on the astral plane and in “real life,” and these are described in the same tone and with the same attention to detail, so that it becomes a challenge telling them apart. The principal characters, all women, have ongoing pitched battles, trying to manipulate Julia into doing their bidding – sometimes Julia fights back and sometimes she becomes a dupe. She’s definitely having a struggle learning things at the outset of her career.

I mentioned irreverence and acerbity – this book has both in spades. It’s a delicious, fun read, but a little confusing sometimes. Additionally, characters do little to attract our interest or sympathy. There’s a lot of competition for the main character’s attention and services, and the motivation of some of the backbiting and simple personal toxicity was never clear to me. This is a highly entertaining and inventive read; I do have to say however, that I question whether the conclusion was worth the tortuous path.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2014/05/the-vanishers-by-heidi-julavits.html ( )
  LukeS | May 13, 2014 |
This is a 3.67 star review.

I can totally understand why other reviewers did not like Heidi Julavits' The Vanishers. A yound woman named Julia Severin, love that surmame, is studying at The Workshop, which is a post graduate study for psychics.

Julia has some issues, to say the least: she is left in an emotional void due to her mother's suicide when she was only a month old, her father is emotionally responsive and perfers to keep mum about her mother's suicide and pretends that her psychic gifts don't exist, and her mentor, Madame Ackermann, whom Julia sees as both a mother substitute and a pseudo sexual partner, is psychically attacking her because of Ackermann's jealousy of becoming obsolete because Julia is more powerful than her.

And this is the simpler part of the novel: Julia's journey through getting over mental and physical afflictions are like whoa. Just whoa. However, with that being said, I really, really enjoyed this novel. The Vanishers was different. It was kooky and bizarre but realistic and plausible. Under all the "psychic-ness" of it was a story about a young woman trying to reconcille her lost of her mother and how that lack of resolution trickled and influenced her own life, even perhaps had a hand in making her sick, and made her open to other people's manipulation.

I liked the tone of the book. It was relaxed but tense. I highly enjoyed Julavits' writing. It's not all books that I have considered within the first few pages to be well written but with The Vanishers, I did. ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
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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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