The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

3.78 of 5 stars 3.78  ·  rating details  ·  13,765 ratings  ·  2,371 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 277 pages
Published May 17th 2007 by Headline Review (first published January 1st 2006)
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Apr 10, 2013 Laura rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People looking for a quick read with twisted family dynamics
Man, I love to read. Opening a book by an author you've never read is like having a plane ticket to an unknown destination. You don't know where you're going, or exactly when you'll arrive. You just have to trust the pilot to get you there in one piece, hopefully with a smile on your face. Maggie O'Farrell doesn't disappoint, let me just tell you.

I don't think I'd have ever added this book if I paid lots of attention to the title or the cover. Both make me think of a frilly-froo-froo type read a...more
Oct 29, 2007 Anna rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes not so good endings.
This book just ends. That's it. You have to really use your imagination to understand what happens. The story was good, I just would like it to have ended different. And there were a couple of subplots that did not play out, even though the author could have done something with them.
Jan 17, 2013 Dem rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Dem by: Book Club Read/ Sept
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a beautifully written and haunting story about a woman who has been unjustly incarcerated in a mental hospital at a very young age and has remained there for over sixty years. The hospital is now closing down and the inhabitants have to be rehoused. The story is set between the 1930s and the present day.

The story is intelligently told and the plot is really well-thought out so there were enough twists and turns to keep me engrossed and intrigued. The way Maggi...more
The human brain is a tricky thing and O'Farrell has provided readers with a fascinating look into the psyche of three women in "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox." Iris learns of her great aunt's existence when the mental institution in which Esme has been living for the past 60 years contacts her about its upcoming closure. Her inability to go on living as though this woman never existed begins the unraveling of a dark family mystery that few could ever imagine possible.

Although female "hysteria...more
Sonia Gomes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Every now and then you come across a book so perfectly whole, so complete in itself, that you marvel as you read. It has such flow, such control of style, such effortless prose, that it's almost impossible to put it down. Such a book is The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which I could have easily read in one sitting except I had to go to work.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is the story of three women and the burning secrets that affected them all. Iris Lockhart is a young, single, modern women...more
Maggie O'Farrell's new novel asks the question: What do you do if the local psychiactric hospital calls to tell you you've got a great aunt you never knew you had?

Iris Lockhart doesn't want to bring a lady who may or may not be crazy into her house, but with her parents gone and her grandmother, Kitty, suffering from alzheimers disease, she hasn't got much family left and Aunt Esme throws everything Iris thinks she knows into question.

It's a compelling story told from a number of angles. The s...more
Lisa McLemon
Nov 12, 2007 Lisa McLemon rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
I'm having trouble summing up this book. It's very complex, it's horrifying and it's very, very sad.

Iris Lockhart starts getting phone calls one day from a mental institution named Cauldstone claiming that she is listed as the contact for one Esme Lennox - the sister of Iris' grandmother, Katherine (Kitty). Iris insists there must be a mistake, because Katherine never, ever mentioned having a sister. The paperwork proves it, however, and Iris is pretty much forced to take in this old woman who h...more
My favorite book so far this year, and I have a feeling it will be one of the top three once 2009 comes to an end. A great book!
Interesting, intriguing, sad, suspenseful, shocking are some of the words I would use to describe this book...and the best part is that it all came perfectly together at the end. Definitely going to look into reading more by this author!
May 07, 2008 Myra rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Myra by: Tara
Shelves: adult-lit-2008
I borrowed this book from my friend Tara, and was it ever a great recommendation!

The very nature of this novel makes it a hard one to do a review on without giving away the best parts of the book. As the story unfolds that surrounds Esme, Iris, and Kitty, the words and feelings have a way of touching the reader quite deeply. As I was making my way through this novel, there came a point where the story held me captive and pushed my emotions to the front, like nothing I've read in quite some time....more
Locked up decades ago for such outlandish behavior as dancing, Esme Lennox is finally released when her asylum is shut down. Esme is thrust into the care of her grand-niece Iris, a modern young women whose struggle to overcome her "unnatural" love for her step-brother gives her more in common with Esme than either could imagine. As Iris tries to unravel the mystery of Esme's existence, she learns more (though ultimately not enough) about her hidden family history, information she never obtained...more
This is one of those stories that has all the components of greatness--a well-concieved, interesting trajectory, mystery, betrayal, tragedy, paralleling societal and family injustice and feminist themes. There are also some moments of lovely poetry in O'Farrell's writing style. I should have loved it, and I certainly gobbled it up, reading it much more voraciously than I usually read novels. But this novel is simply not fully formed, and therefore has left a number of reviewers unsatisfied. One...more
It hinges on the reasons why Esme was incarcerated: she apparently was a spirited girl, who would rather read than pursue a husband. The ultimate sin that committed her was seemingly dancing in a negligee of her mother's, and becoming hysterical when caught by her parents doing so. Esme is "taken away" for a rest, but ends up being hidden away for much of the rest of her life. As the story unfolds, family secrets, betrayals, and the general stuff of human lives comes out.

In the meantime, there i...more
Diane S.
I'm not sure that any review can actually do this book justice. It is emotionally powerful and powerfully heartbreaking, such a short book to convey so much emotion and so much depth. Hard to believe there was a time when a young girl or wife or mother could be committed to a psychiatric institute indefinitely just on the say so of a doctor, a mother,a jealous sister, a father or a husband. But there was. The writing in this book is deceptively simple and oh so elegant. The characters real and c...more
Jan 08, 2008 Roisin rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: young women who may have started to take their independence for granted
I've just read this book in less than 24 hours on a work day which I think says a lot about it. Completely un-put-down-able [if there is such a word].
The story is obviously moving, this was never going to be a big surprise. I even knew the ending [due to an over-zealous review and accompanying feature when the hardback first came out] but this didn't spoil my enjoyment in anyway.
The unfinished sentences should get irritating but they just don't, they just make you more unable to put the book dow...more
Kitty and Esme Lennox grew up in India but came of age in Edinburgh, daughters of a stuffy Scottish family at a time when women who refused to conform could be locked away at the whim of their parents or husbands. Kitty is the pretty, proper sister, docilely pursuing a husband. Esme refuses to cut her hair, likes to walk barefoot in the garden, would rather read a book than entertain young gentlemen and declares her intention to never marry. Sixty years later, Iris Lockhart, Kitty's granddaughte...more
Maria João Fernandes
"Consente e és são. Objecta e és perigoso de imediato." - Emily Dickinson

Este pequeno livro de Maggie O'Farrell é sobre a longa vida de uma mulher chamada Esme. Lê-lo é tão intenso como sonharmos acordados: ficamos emocionalmente foram de nós e somos tomados por vários sentimentos intensos como dor, medo, alegria e compaixão.

"O que é que se diz a um anjo?"

A narrativa é envolvente e abraça-nos até ao final. As palavras movem-se tranquilamente entre as árvores de uma infância perdida e as águas fr...more
Ron Charles
Maggie O'Farrell's three previous novels have been respectfully reviewed, but her new one radiates the kind of energy that marks a classic. Think Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Charlotte Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" or Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea: stories that illuminate the suffering quietly endured by women in polite society. To that list of insightful feminist tales add The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. At the heart of this fantastic new novel is a mystery you want to solve until you start...more
The plot sounded interesting enough: Iris, a vintage clothes shop owner, is suddenly contacted about the care of a great aunt she never knew she had, Esme. Esme is being released from a mental institution (it's closing down) where she has lived for 60 years. Iris's parents are both deceased; her only relative is her grandmother, Kitty, who is currently battling Alzheimer's in a care center. There were no chapters and the perspectives would shift throughout the pages between each woman. Kitty's n...more
Started this book Friday evening and couldn't put it down. Beautifully written, haunting story line and completely engrossing. Told from the perspective of three women it took me some time to understand what was going on (one part is from the perspective of an Alzheimer's patient so her memories are quite erratic) but once I got the rhythm of the book I was completely riveted. I've read that some people didn't like the ending but I thought it was perfect. Books don't often surprise me with their...more
Outstanding book! Wanted to give it five stars but I was torn about the ending. On one hand it seemed to fit the book and on the other hand I felt like I wanted more.

This book reminds us just how many things in our lives we take for granted. This was a fascinating novel and I highly recommend it.
Steve Lindahl
I've read many books about conditional love. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell is the about the other side of that coin, a family with standards for their love that are very conditional. Esme is someone who doesn't meet those standards and as a result suffers a horrible life.

At the beginning of the book Iris Lockhart, a young woman who runs a consignment shop, learns that she has a great aunt she's never heard of. The woman is in a psychiatric institution that is about to clos...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
A somewhat ethereal narration may not be enjoyable to all readers. O'Farrell brings the reader from past to present and back again with little warning or notice and does so with three different narrators.

If you are the type of reader who doesn't like to have to figure out who's taking or where you are in the chronology of events I would say this novel is probably not for you. If you are willing to exercise your gray matter a little bit you are in for an interesting but 'dark and twisty' ride.

Strong-willed women who live by their own rules do not fare well in the course of literature. One need only think of Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, Wide Saragasso Sea, The Awakening, and other well-reviewed books to realize that most such women are killed, commit suicide, or eventually go crazy.

But what if one mysterious, brooding woman who is forced into involuntary institutionalization is saner and shows more humanity than the relatives that placed her there?

That is the premise of The Vanishing...more
I completely fell in love with this book in the one sitting it took me to read it (because I just couldn't put it down).

This is the story 2 young girls, Kitty and Esme, growing up in the 20's and 30's in first colonial India and then in Edinbugh when their parents move back home. They are sisters who share everything and love each other very much yet one is the dutiful, polite, home-maker type and the the other is the slightly rebellious younger sister who wants to stay on at shcool rather than...more
"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."

Esme was a child who never fit into the social expectations of colonial India, much less those of Scotland when her family returned. She just didn't notice social rules, and, if she did, she thought they were stupid. Esme was a trial to her parents. Her older sister, Kitty, thought she was fu...more
Iris Lockhart is going about life, minding her own business and trying not to think about the fact that she is in love with her step-brother when *bam*: she finds out she has a great-aunt that she's never heard of who's been locked up in an asylum for the last sixty years. Iris feels compelled to take Aunt Esme under her wing and the novel goes on to reveal the events that led to Esme's lockup while Iris tries to sort out her own life.

Wasn't too crazy about this one. The book vacillates between...more
Jan 02, 2009 Chak rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who enjoyed "She's Come Undone"
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Maggie O'Farrell (born 1972, Coleraine Northern Ireland) is a British author of contemporary fiction, who features in Waterstones' 25 Authors for the Future. It is possible to identify several common themes in her novels - the relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters.
More about Maggie O'Farrell...
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“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.” 34 likes
“Two and a half thousand left-handed people are killed every year using things made for right-handed people.” 13 likes
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