Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Title: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Date of Publication: 2006
Press: Headline (Hachette)
Price of Purchase: (Library of Mum)
Reading time: 4 days
This started well, hit a road bump and then recovered itself (although the pseudo incestuous relationship felt completely unnecessary to me I know it might well be THE winning attribute for other people so I ‘get’ why it was left in).
So excepting the minor plot line I did not particularly enjoy this was a beautiful book about the conscious and unconscious cruelties against women in the 1940s. Esme is unusual, then preyed upon, then institutionalised and, finally, forgotten about.
There are two sisterly relationships at the centre of the text. That between Esme and her sister, told retrospectively by Esme and Kitty, now suffering from dementia, and that which develops between Esme and her great niece Iris.
For a novel with surprisingly dark themes I found it to have an underlying tone of hopefulness and of gratitude that although the world is not yet perfect it has certainly come a long way in terms of women’s rights between Esme’s incarceration in the 1940s and her eventual release in the early 2000s.
However, I found the descriptions of the treatment of both Esme, in the psychiatric hospital, and Kitty, in her care home, particularly moving. The manner in which Esme in particular is dismissed because she is ‘mad’ is one thing which I fear has not improved enough in the 21st century.
As always with Maggie O’Farrell the prose is beautifully written and the characterisation flawless. Also I love reading books set in places I know well so this won many points with me for its Edinburgh-ness.
Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash