Vegantrav's Reviews > The Vanishing Act

The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
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Oct 04, 12

Read in October, 2012

This is a quiet, lovely story about a little girl, Minou, whose mother has disappeared.

Minou, who seems to be 11- or 12-years-old, lives with her father, a fisherman and philosopher, on an unnamed island, presumably in the Atlantic Ocean not far from France. The island has only two other human inhabitants: Priest, who is a priest who loves to bake pretzels and make origami animals, and Boxman, a magician who has fond memories of his days in the circus. All of the adults have pasts shrouded in mystery, and exactly how and why they have come to the island is unclear. Minou also has a friend in Boxman's dog, No Name, so named because he has no name other than No Name.

As the story opens, Minou's mother has been gone for almost a year. Her father, Priest, and Boxman are all convinced that she has mysteriously died, but Minou believes she is still alive.

One morning, almost a year after Minou's mother has vanished, the body of a young boy just a few years older than Minou, washes up on the shores of the island. Minou's father keeps the dead body in a room with the window's open to let winter in so that the body can be preserved until the supply boat comes to the island and can take away the body. Minou spends time talking to the dead boy, telling him her story, and inventing a story for how the boy came to the island.

In Minou's talks with the dead boy's body and in her own reminiscences, we learn a bit of Minou's history, and we learn about Minou's mother's disappearance.

When I finished the novel, the first adjective that came to mind was precious: this is just a sweet, precious story. And then I looked at the blurb from Erin Morgenstern on the back of the book, and she, too, had described it as precious. It is an apt description. This is story that is subtly melancholy, softly tragic, and yet still somehow hopeful.

*****SPOILER ALERT*****

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The central mystery, the disappearance of Minou's mother, is never resolved. And that is, granted the tone and pace and unfolding of the story, appropriate.

Not a lot really happens in this story, and there are no great philosophical discussions despite the story's dancing around the issue of Minou's father's search for truth and his dedication to Descartes.

And despite the promise of the title and the presence of the magician, Boxman, there is no magic in this story. It is not a fairy tale. Yet the author still manages to infuse it with an enchanted feeling, with a sense that the realm of the Other is about to break through.

I fear many readers will come away from this story disappointed with the ending and with the fact that there is no grand magical adventure, no fairy-tale beginning and no fairy-tale ending. Nevertheless, I still liked and very much enjoyed it. It's a simple story to be enjoyed for the sake of the telling of the story even if, once told, we still are left with a mystery, for the telling itself is a delight.
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