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The Vanishers

3.12 of 5 stars 3.12  ·  rating details  ·  2,381 ratings  ·  438 reviews
From the acclaimed novelist and The Believer editor HEIDI JULAVITS, a wildly imaginative and emotionally intense novel about mothers, daughters, and the psychic damage women can inflict on one another.

Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death?

Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann,
Hardcover, 284 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2012)
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Well this was just riveting. A lush, pell-mell rush of a book filled with exquisite language that just tugs and tugs you forth. The kind of book you invent excuses to read—just one more cigarette, just twenty more minutes abed before turning off the light, taking the local train instead of the express for more uninterrupted reading time. I almost want to read it again right away, just to fill in all the gaps more clearly.

I admit I am very surprised to have been so captivated and enamored. I rea
Paquita Maria Sanchez
I have this picture in my head of Heidi Julavits and Ben Marcus in the morning, one in the shower, the other at the sink with toothbrush in hand, talking through the curtain about what popular themes they can prey on in order to write smart, weird, prose-driven lit fic that drives genre fans insane.

Ben: "I was thinking, ya know, this whole dystopias and zombies end-of-the-world thing is really hot right now. I bet I could write something in that vein which would reach a fairly large audience giv
Lolly K Dandeneau
Confusing and I had to trudge through it. I usually love anything with a paranormal bend to it. It sounded like an amazing read, and it wasn't bad but it just didn't reach a level of pleasure for me that I find in other books of this genre. The storyline was a great idea, no doubt about that but I am still coming out of a brain fog on this one. I can't say I liked it, and yet I can't quite put my finger on the exact reason. It wasn't confusing in the sense it was too clever, too complex, more th ...more
There's a lot that I really liked and admired about this book, most notably, its originality, imaginative prose and pitch-perfect humor. The first section of the book blew me away—I was so excited to read the rest. And then I did. That's when I felt increasingly stupid for feeling so lost as to what was going on.

I knew enough to understand that the protagonist, Julia, a gifted psychic, was experiencing events that blurred the edges of time and place and real vs. imaginary. I don't mind having t
Kate Woods Walker
Mother-daughter conflict—especially the scorched-earth type that erupts from truly horrible mothering—is such a promising, sweeping theme. And, as an admirer of Heidi Julavits’s The Uses of Enchantment, I was eager to devour this, her latest take on the eternal maternal. Sadly, The Vanishers doesn’t deliver.

Julavits creates a surreal, feminine world with the story of motherless psychic Julia Severn, one in which institutions like The Workshop (where psychics go to get their advanced training) an
The Vanishers an eccentric, eclectic novel that takes the kinds of themes one usually sees in an Amy Tan* novel, dips them in acid, and rolls them in a crunchy sci-fi topping. Julia is a student at a sort of university for psychics in a world where this seems to be largely taken seriously as a profession. She begins to realize that her favorite professor, a mentoring figure who has hired her to do "stenography," or dictation during her psychic trances, is less psychically capable than she is, an ...more
Brian Feltovich
Struggling with this one. Some lovely prose and an inventive idea for a plot, but if I step away for more than ten minutes I can't remember who is doing what and why we care.
Jeanne Thornton
Yeah this is great. Basically a Haruki Murakami/David Lynch narrative approach to Sylvia Plath. I was worried about the voice in the book's opening scene -- for a sequence describing a psychic "torquing" competition at a mysterious A-frame house on the periphery of an institute for students of uncommon paranormal ability, basically an X-men scenario if there ever was one, the language was this combo of eerily arch and breezy that I was really not into. And then, as reality starts to shift around ...more
Susan Tunis
A convoluted supernatural plot can’t compete with out of this world prose

I’m one of those reviewers who tends to start with a plot summary. So, I could tell you that this is the story of twenty-something Julia Severn, an “Initiate of Promise” at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology. The novel begins by detailing Julia’s complex and troubled relationship with her mentor, Madame Ackerman. Their problems may stem from the mentor’s fear of being supplanted by the protégé, or perhaps they’re du
The pretty cover art belies the darkness of this story. It read like a strangely breezy read that held intricate sentences and creepy scenarios and insightful meditations on grief, female rivalry, illness, intergenerational relationships, pornography and . . . Here's a random tossed off observation on a character that I marked as typical of Julavits's style:
I marveled at how she was able to project a blanket of certainty over a conversation that was pure jumble, stunning her listeners into sham
3 Stars

Be warned - lots of horrendous use of metaphor and not to the point anecdote ahead.

When I was in 6th grade I got to be apart of an advanced readers group. One of books we read was called A Door in the Wall – it was about a young man living during the medieval era, during the plagues, who contracted some disease (probably polio?) that left him with very limited use of his legs. The book was about his trials and tribulations and how he overcame his adversities and had a triumph of the spir
Well. This is one I couldn't wait to end. Dogged plot where seemingly exciting things keep happening, but the characters and the world are so underdeveloped I didn't give a fuck. None of the characters had very much personality at all—Julavits tells us the personality traits of certain characters, but not a single one of them was fleshed out enough to be even remotely believable. Julia, the protagonist, is a blank slate who I kept forgetting even existed—every time someone said "Julia," my liter ...more
Suspend your Disbelief

"The Vanishers" has a nice twist on the paranormal craze. Julavits manages to present a fresh outlook as well as a believable plot as long as you're willing to suspend belief and go with the premise. Mid twenties Julia Severn is attending a course in honing her psychic skills in lieu of a more traditional graduate course. She becomes fixated on her mentor, Madam Ackerman, in part because she lost own mother as a baby and still longs for her. Then things blow up at school an

Quick summary...

Julia is a psychic who has issues and she is being made sick and unstable by another psychic who is jealous of her.

My thoughts...

This was an extremely weird yet oddly fascinating book. Julia was assisting Madame Ackerman when a psychic event caused Madame Ackerman to hate her and make her quite ill. Julia already has issues because of her mothers suicide and it doesn't take much of Madame Ackerman's skills to do her in. She is asked to leave her training. She takes pills round th
Mar 20, 2012 Kerrie marked it as to-read
This is a review from the website I am using it as a reminder for why I want to read this novel. Written by Heidi Julavits. We read one of her books in our book club.

For all that we think of our world as somehow post-feminist, the words “women’s fiction” and “high literature” still seen to occupy different real estate, and I don’t need to say which of these rents space 17 floors below the penthouse. Heidi Julavits has spent much of her career as a writer of fiction — this is her four
Julie Ehlers
You know, I like intellectual novels of ideas as much as the next person, but I also really like a book that's a pageturner, that you can't wait to get back to. When I can get both of these things in one book, I feel like I've hit the jackpot. For me, The Vanishers was one of these books. Weird and imaginative, it made great use of character, plot, and setting, and it also asked a lot of interesting questions. Of course, as my GR friend Nicky points out, it didn't really answer any of those ques ...more
Erin Tuzuner
Incredible. Raising questions while the answers loiter in the mist, this novel is an incredible exploration of grief, relationships, and self destruction.
The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits is a literary version of a paranormal novel. Julia Severn is a student at a school for psychics. She has been taken under the tutelage of Madame Ackerman who reminds Julia of her mother. Well, pictures of her mother. Julia's mother died when Julia was a baby. Julia's longing to know her mother underpins the whole story. Her relationship with Madame Ackerman begins to crumble when Madame realizes that her pupil is more talented than her. After a psychic attack, Jul ...more
Weird, ferocious, passionate, funny and heart wrenching, all these adjectives and more come to mind while reading "The Vanishers." Heidi Julavits's strange novel manages to be a surrealistic psychic noir mystery, a satire of academia and modern medicine, while simultaneously exploring female relationships -- mother to daughter, teacher to student, friend to friend, enemy to enemy -- with an intensity that humor can only mask for so long. As odd as all this sounds, it is also eminently readable.

Ricki Jill Treleaven
This week I read The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits . I almost wish I hadn't. {almost} This book has received rave reviews and was recommended to me by several sources. If you decide to read it, please be forewarned that the synopses I read beforehand are misleading. This deception is almost understandable because the plot is very convoluted and unnecessarily complicated.

Basically, the story is about a twenty-something Julia Severn, a student at an exclusive New England institute for psychics. Juli
It sounds cliche to say that a book hooks you with it's first sentence, but in this case it couldn't be more true. I actually whispered the word "wow" when I finished the intro.

Though this is a beautiful, engaging book, it is also quite complicated. I totally loved the idea of the psychic attacks that Julie is subjected to and doles out. The language and writing is superior to so many other books I have read lately. Julie's voice was so pitch-perfect. I found myself looking up to her perfectly w
In a marvelous literary construction, Heidi Julavits takes the internal struggle of a young woman whose mother has committed suicide and finds a metaphysical analogy to extrapolate, examine, and ultimately explode the resulting inner demon. Elizabeth Severn is a young psychic who enrolls in the country's only college for the paranormally inclined. However, her course of study quickly takes a wrong turn when her tutor, out of jealousy, attacks her mind. Soon, in an attempt to heal herself Elizabe ...more
I was wearing my silver party boots, though I now considered them simply boots. The last party I’d attended I’d been felled by such a gutting attack of vertigo that I’d been forced to spend the night in the stairwell of the hostess’s apartment building, the flights of steps throbbing above me like a stressed vascular system. The last date I’d been on I’d bled from the mouth when kissed. My last visit to a restaurant I’d spent voiding my intestines in the unisex bathroom. Whereas I’d once been ab ...more
"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
Andrea Mullarkey
In this book, Julavits made a magical prep school entirely fascinating to me. The Vanishers is told from the perspective of Julia Severn, a sick young woman who in retelling what has happened to her is also trying to understand exactly what it was and why as well. It is clear to her that she has been psychically attacked, and she presumes that her supervisor, Madame Ackerman attacked her in jealousy for Julia’s strong magical talents. That Julia has shown Madame Ackerman up at a party with all t ...more
The highly gifted, pretty precocious student Julia Severn is studying at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology and lands the coveted gig of recording professor Madame Ackermann’s dream-like psychic episodes in Heidi Julavit’s novel “The Vanishers.”

Sounds great, except Madame Ackermann is blocked. Nothing is happening when she is in this state. She is especially not finding out the file number of a film canister she’s been asked to locate. So Julia doodles away the day, finds some answers w
This book just didn't do it for me. I didn't hate it, though I did think the plot was rather silly. I didn't care about any of the characters, which is one of my litmus tests for good books. Frankly, I have no idea why The Vanishers was chosen as one of Amazon's "best" books of the month. The cynic in me suspects bribery. I do try to find something positive in every book I read, so I'll grant that the writing in The Vanishers is well crafted and that the author makes some delightfully sly observ ...more

My 6 y.o. Daughter picked this audiobook from the library shelves and suggested I listen to it because she liked the flowers on the cover. There are no flowers in this book. I dare say, I have never read a book whose content is so completely opposite the cover. It is a captivating, often horrifying story delving into the darkest places of our souls and psyches - exploring the very meaning of a wounded spirit. I don't think I can say I enjoyed this book. I can't even really explain the plot. But
Lauren Moore
The Vanishers is Heidi Julavits' literary adaptation of Blue Oyster Cult's "Veteran of Pyshic Wars." (I made that up, but it could be true.)

Listening to this book sometimes felt like watching an avant garde film with hard to read subtitles, in a good way! I enjoyed its weirdness and appreciated its obscurity. I liked that the psychic doings weren't a metaphor for anything, but felt more like a exaggeration of the wild things our minds are capable of when we are subconsciously trying to protect o
I tried so diligently to read THE VANISHERS as slowly as possible, but it is an impossibility. It's just too good. This book feels plucked from my subconscious, as if Julavits was one of the very psychic initiates she explores here. Everything I love is on display: real characters, emotional depth, building fear/ dread, and the supernatural. I especially appreciate the excavation of the mother/ daughter psychology, as well as that of female friendships (or lack thereof). Easily my favorite book ...more
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21st Century Lite...: Vanishers--Whole Book with spoilers 27 36 Feb 12, 2015 07:34AM  
21st Century Lite...: Vanishers Part three 5 9 Jan 27, 2015 06:32PM  
21st Century Lite...: Vanishers Part Two 4 13 Jan 24, 2015 09:21AM  
21st Century Lite...: Vanishers part one 11 22 Jan 21, 2015 01:30PM  
21st Century Lite...: Vanishers General Discussion-no spoilers 11 36 Jan 21, 2015 10:25AM  
21st Century Lite...: Vanishers Part Six 1 6 Jan 14, 2015 06:09PM  
21st Century Lite...: Vanishers Part Five 1 6 Jan 14, 2015 06:08PM  
  • The Ninth Step
  • Absolution
  • Dogma
  • Threats
  • Flatscreen
  • A Partial History of Lost Causes
  • The Devil in Silver
  • The Listeners
  • That's Not a Feeling
  • What They Do in the Dark
  • Lithium for Medea
  • Wild Girls
  • A Million Heavens
  • The Ruined City (The Veiled Isles Trilogy, #2)
  • Breaking and Entering
  • I'm Trying to Reach You
  • The Fun Parts
  • The Dark Rose
Heidi Suzanne Julavits is an American author and co-editor of The Believer magazine. She has been published in The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 2, Esquire, Story, Zoetrope All-Story, and McSweeney's Quarterly. Her novels include The Mineral Palace (2000), The Effect of Living Backwards (2003) and The Uses of Enchantment (2006) and The Vanishers (2012).

She was born and grew up in Portland, Maine,
More about Heidi Julavits...
The Folded Clock: A Diary The Uses of Enchantment The Effect of Living Backwards The Mineral Palace Read Hard: Five Years of Great Writing from the Believer

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“He was uninterested in art, politics, culture, people. While his brain burrowed through rock toward a very specific knowledge goal, mine preferred to warren the air; his brain operated a drill bit while mine launched a thousand aimless kites that tangled strings or bounced along the invisible currents, disconnected and alone. Cognitively, we were the gravitational negatives of each other. Sometimes I wished I had his brain. But only sometimes. He suffered due to his specialized excesses; he just suffered differently from me.” 5 likes
“Or perhaps it was the crying woman's mention of the unread library books, because truly there was nothing sadder, except a gift that a person has hand made for you, a scarf or a poncho, that, try as you might, you cannot ever see your way into wearing. This is when the cold indifference of the world envelops you, and makes you feel invigorated by emotion but also acutely alone.” 2 likes
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