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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  18,376 Ratings  ·  2,870 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
Paperback, 277 pages
Published May 17th 2007 by Headline Review (first published 2006)
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Deborah Allin Dissociation is a huge part of being traumatised. If you have carried a secret or had to hide a truth for fear of the impact, it was as if you had to…moreDissociation is a huge part of being traumatised. If you have carried a secret or had to hide a truth for fear of the impact, it was as if you had to disappear or disconnect so on some level she disappears because it is the only way she can survive in a world which does not allow her to exist. Also a thought. Could the spectre in the garden be the lost child or someone else associated to her, or the ghost of her painful experience.. just some thoughts. (less)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Apr 10, 2013 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Oct 29, 2007 Anna rated it liked it  ·  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.
Aug 30, 2015 Phrynne rated it it was amazing
This is a lovely, lovely book and I am amazed I have not read it before. I did not know what I was missing! It's not an easy book to review because you do need to come to it with no preconceived ideas about the content. Enough to say that it involves a family, a lot of memories about the past and a rather good ending! The writing is just beautifully done especially the way the author moves between the memories of Kitty and Esme, dropping clues along the way so the reader can begin to understand ...more
Jan 17, 2013 Dem rated it it was amazing
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
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
Angela M
Sep 30, 2014 Angela M rated it it was amazing
The opening of this novel reflects the simple beauty and power of O'Farrell's writing and I was immediately drawn into this story.

“Let us begin with two girls at a dance.
They are at the edge of the room. One sits on a chair, opening and shutting a dance-card with gloved fingers. The other stands beside, watching the dance unfold: the circling couples, the clasped hands, the drumming shoes, the whirling skirts, the bounce of the floor. It is the last hour of the year and the windows behind them
Sep 06, 2008 Lindsay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Diane S ☔
Mar 12, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it it was amazing
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
Sonia Gomes
Jan 26, 2009 Sonia Gomes rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Unforgettable book with a stunning ending that will haunt me for some time to come. This is an outstanding book and a tragic and disturbing story...believable because what was done to Esme may not have been a rare occurrence for women in that time. As a child and young woman, Esme was naïve yet spirited…an independent thinker, which confounded her family. It is no secret that Esme was locked away in an institution for 61 years. The story is told from three points of view to gradually reveal the ...more
Feb 07, 2009 Nicole rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
Lisa McLemon
Nov 12, 2007 Lisa McLemon rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Feb 11, 2011 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 07, 2008 Myra rated it it was amazing  ·  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.
Jan 12, 2008 Colleen rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
Jun 13, 2011 Pamela rated it liked it
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
Sonja Arlow
May 11, 2016 Sonja Arlow rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-read
I never go onto Goodreads topic discussion groups, but for some reason last week I started reading the responses in a group called Most Underrated Books and found this book mentioned there.

That reminded me that I had earmarked this book a year ago and promptly forgot about it. To be honest the book reminded me a lot of What She Left Behind so I found it difficult not to compare the two.

The story alternates between Iris, Esme and Kitty however as there are no chapters and no warning from one para
Katy Noyes
Jan 12, 2015 Katy Noyes rated it it was amazing
An amazing novel. I'd put this off for a year or more - always something new and crisp to get to first! - and really wish I'd read this a long time ago.

Sometimes books about mental illness and split time periods are very confusing, but I didn't find this with Esme at all. I was riveted. I was aching to know just what had caused Esme to be locked in an 'asylum' for more than six decades. What her connection was to Iris, what secrets the past would bring to light.

Often, the twists in this kind of
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
Ron Charles
Dec 08, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 23, 2010 Annie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Feb 13, 2015 Marialyce rated it it was amazing
What a sad, sad story of how hatred, jealousy, and not fitting a mold can destroy lives. Esme was such a tragic protagonist that one's heart broke for her. On every page of this novel, Esme's life was laid open in a most poetic way. The writing, the emotions, the total pathos of this book took the reader on a journey that was abhorrent and ever so tragic.

It is always hard for someone to conceptualize the workings of family. Esme's family had hearts of stone, and feelings that were just engraved
Steve Lindahl
Jul 10, 2010 Steve Lindahl rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 28, 2014 Megan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 24, 2010 Jill rated it really liked it
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
Jan 08, 2008 Roisin rated it really liked it
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
Sep 26, 2014 Malia rated it liked it
I've read O'Farrell's 'After You'd Gone' some time ago, and remembered liking it well enough to try another. 'The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox' is a strange book. The story shifts around in time and from one PoV to another, which I rather enjoyed, even if it was a bit confusing sometimes. O'Farrell didn't use chapters either, which added to the confusion, though I think, in the end, the choice was made to aid the slightly befuddled flow of the story. The characters are confused and maybe the rea ...more
May 15, 2011 Carol rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
If you like your books linear than this may not work for you. Told in three voices, there's a lot of jumping around and you could easily find yourself losing the rhythm and sequence of events. Stick with it and you're in for an exceptional story. One of the central themes is the ability to commit women to institutions for virtually any trumped up reason. All it took was a signature of a doctor and off she'd go. O'Farrell states "It is a novel I've wanted to write for a long time. I first had the ...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
Jun 14, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing
Oh, wow! What a beautiful book!

First thing: if you read this, try to do it in one setting. It's under 250 pages, so you could do it on a lazy weekend. It's just so tightly woven. You don't want to let go of it too much in between reading sessions.

On to the story...

Iris gets a call about her great aunt Euphemia, who she has never heard of. She's being released from 60 years in a mental institution. Iris' grandmother, her only other kin, has Alzheimer's. So it's up to Iris. Iris waffles over how t
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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.” 46 likes
“Two and a half thousand left-handed people are killed every year using things made for right-handed people.” 17 likes
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