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The Vanishers

3.14  ·  Rating details ·  3,112 ratings  ·  536 reviews
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, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother's suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, ...more
Hardcover, 284 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Doubleday
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Average rating 3.14  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,112 ratings  ·  536 reviews

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Feb 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2013
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
Dec 01, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 04, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Dec 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Truth: a couple times I was tempted to DNF this. I was enjoying the story but I also wasn't wowed by it.

I would return to it on my drive home to keep me awake (audiobooks work better than music for me 80% of the time) and when I was brushing my teeth.

Throughout the story I was left with an overall impression of vagueness. Like we were sitting near or beside Julia in a room, telling her story in no particular hurry or how she told it.

I got this blind off Overdrive app and read no reviews, only t
Kate Woods Walker
Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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. ...more
Oct 19, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: indiespensable
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
Jeanne Thornton
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
This book is SICK. I loved it. I read more than 100 books every year and I can tell you that this is, by far, the most out-there, different, flat-out smart and weird story that I've read in a long time. Heidi Julavits has an incredible imagination. I'm pretty sure I read her The Effect of Living Backwards a long, long time ago, on the advice of a dear friend and my half-Chinese soul sister Danielle, but it's been ages since I heard her name and am so glad my library had a copy of this book. Must ...more
Susan Tunis
Mar 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
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
Julie Ehlers
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 17, 2012 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
Mar 09, 2012 rated it really liked it

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 r
Mar 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
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.

Mar 15, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Dec 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Erin Tuzuner
Incredible. Raising questions while the answers loiter in the mist, this novel is an incredible exploration of grief, relationships, and self destruction.
Feb 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
May 14, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Ricki Treleaven
Mar 09, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Aug 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2012
i really enjoyed this novel, but it is insane. it's hard to even explain what it's about. i guess the protagonist enrolls in an institute where people harness their psychic energy. she quickly becomes a teacher's pet & is enlisted to assist her crazy gypsy lady mentor in the job of psychically identifying the safe in which a movie reel is being stashed. the movie will allegedly prove or disprove allegations about some avant garde performance artist who lured wealthy young socialites into her orb ...more
Andrea Mullarkey
Dec 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, droid
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
Apr 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"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
Nov 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
May 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, paranormal
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
Mar 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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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,

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