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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie…
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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Maggie O'Farrell

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2,1061383,127 (3.79)257
Member:Booksloth
Title:The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Authors:Maggie O'Farrell
Info:Harcourt (2007), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library, Fiction
Rating:*
Tags:Read in 2008

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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell (2006)

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English (132)  Catalan (2)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  All languages (138)
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La desaparición de Esme Lennox es un libro sencillo, ligero y adictivo, que gana más por cómo está escrito (con un lenguaje tan cercano, tan envolvente...) que por la historia que cuenta, que no me pareció especialmente original. Es una lástima que no haya más libros de Maggie O'Farrell traducidos al español.
( )
  L0r0 | Mar 22, 2015 |
just ok. beginning much stronger and more interesting than the ending that just kind of fell flat, tie it up fast. Plus the time frames seemed off, that is Esme's youth seemed to take place in maybe Victorian times (very conservative, constraining role for women) but grand daughter current era. ( )
  amaraki | Mar 4, 2015 |
When an unknown family member is released from a mental institution, lives are changed as family secrets are revealed. A well told story with a startling ending. One of the few books I have dreamed about after reading. ( )
  poetreegirl | Feb 16, 2015 |
"We are all, Esme decides, just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in the world as anagrams of our antecedents." (134)

Set primarily in Scotland, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox begins in the early twentieth century, spans some eighty years, and is narrated by three women, all related: Kitty Lennox; Esme Lennox, her younger sister; and Iris Lockhart, Kitty’s granddaughter. At its heart, the novel is the story of the deep and enduring relationship between sisters, Esme and Kitty – and of the tragic decisions which sunder their connection.

Before WWII is even on the radar, sixteen-year-old Esme Lennox, who refuses to conform her behaviour to the social expectations of the day, is committed to a sanitarium by her parents – she will remain there more than sixty years. Kitty, meanwhile, marries and goes on with her life, but never does she visit her sister. Not once. Fast forward to present day (ish) Edinburgh, and Iris Lockhart, her middle-aged granddaughter, receives a call from Cauldstone, the institution which has housed Esme for so many decades, that it is closing and does she, as next of kin, wish to take in her elderly great aunt? But Iris has never heard of Esme. Kitty, now in residential care and suffering from Alzheimer’s, has always claimed to have been an only child.

I thoroughly enjoyed O’Farrell’s beautifully written novel, though truthfully I wished for more Kitty and Esme, and less Iris. I understand that Iris represents the “modern woman” that Esme wanted to be – so far ahead of her time. But I found Iris’s dysfunctional relationships with men somewhat overdone. That said, I did love the story of the sisters, and the novel’s look at the indiscriminate committal of people who did not conform behaviourally, and who were consequently put away not because they posed a danger to themselves, but because they made others uncomfortable. Well done, Maggie O’Farrell! Highly recommended.

"'You know what it says here?' She says, 'That a man used to be able to admit his daughter or wife to an asylum with just a signature from a GP.'" (72)
________________________

Further Note:
Want to include this beautiful quote which I couldn’t fit into my review. This is Kitty thinking of her sister: Kitty has just married; Esme is institutionalized:

“– when I left I thought of the bed, our bed, empty, every night. Don't get me wrong, I was happy to be married. More than happy. And I had a beautiful house. But sometimes I wanted to go back, to lie in the bed we'd shared, I wanted to be there on her side, where she'd always lain, and look up at the ceiling, but of course – (84) ( )
1 vote lit_chick | Feb 8, 2015 |
World Book Night gifted my wife with a book. 'The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox' sat next to our front door for a couple of nights before I decided to have a look at it. Two women, one at the beginning of the 20th century, the other at the start of the 21st. Both have issues.

I could see where the troubles for the older woman lay. The story tells of the troubled childhood of Esme Lennox, a girl with her own take on life and a need for something more than marriage. Esme witnesses something terrible in her youth that distances her from her intolerant parents, and then falls into the shadow of her sister, Kitty, who represents the family ideal of the perfect young woman.

Iris, an independent woman, with her own business and a troubled affair with a married man, discovers a relative she never knew existed. As an asylum seeks to offload the last patients in its care, Iris meets Esme for the first time and we follow her over the course of weekend. Both women have something to discover for themselves, some sense of their position in the world, some grip of the events that have moulded their existence.

I didn't know what I would make of it, but in the end I found I couldn't put it down. I know you read that sort of blurb on the cover of books all the time, but I'm serious. I consumed this book in the space of a week, or less. I don't normally read at that sort of pace, but whenever I sat near it the book leapt into my hands and I struggled to stop leafing through the pages. I found the writing style light and engaging. At the same time, when it needed to be serious or distracted and disjointed, Maggie O'Farrell does that well, too. I can see why someone might recommend it, why World Book Night chose to include amongst the volumes on offer. I'm aware of how institutions and families treated women at the end of the Victorian period and into the early part of the 20th century. I felt for Esme and her trials, and this could all so easily refer to a true story rather than simply an act of fiction. I'm sure many women suffered the same fate, and that leaves me troubled, touched.

I thoroughly recommend this read and will definitely pass it on for others to enjoy. ( )
  PaulBaldowski | Jan 24, 2015 |
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Epigraph
Much Madness is divinest Sense--

To a discerning eye--

Much Sense--the starkest Madness--

'Tis the Majority

In this, as All, prevail--

Assent--and you are sane--

Demur--and you're straightaway dangerous--

And handled with a Chain--

Emily Dickinson
I couldn't have my happiness made out of a wrong-- an unfairness-- to somebody else . . . What sort of a life could we build on such foundations?

Edith Wharton
Dedication
for Saul Seamus
First words
Let us begin with two girls at a dance.
Quotations
This girl is remarkable to her. She is a marvel. From all her family – her and Kitty and Hugo and all the other babies and her parents – from all of them, there is only this girl. She is the only one left. They have all narrowed down to this black-haired girl sitting o the sand, who has no idea that her hands and her eyes and the tilt of her head and the fall of her hair belong to Esme's mother. We are all, Esme decides, just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in the world as anagrams of our antecedents.
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Book description
In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for over sixty years. Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face. Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But Esme’s still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?

Maggie O’Farrell’s intricate tale of family secrets, lost lives, and the freedom brought by truth will haunt readers long past its final page.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0151014116, Hardcover)

In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage-clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for more than sixty-one years.

Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face. 

Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But she's still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?

A gothic, intricate tale of family secrets, lost lives, and the freedom brought by truth, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox will haunt you long past its final page.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:04 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage-clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend's attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital -- where she has been locked away for more than sixty-one years. A family member who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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