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Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  21,304 Ratings  ·  3,159 Reviews
Maggie O’Farrell takes readers on a journey to the darker places of the human heart, where desires struggle with the imposition of social mores. This haunting story explores the seedy past of Victorian asylums, the oppression of family secrets, and the way truth can change everything.

In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage clothing shop and sideste
Paperback, 256 pages
Published June 2nd 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (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)
Polly McBurney I thought that it was more to highlight the difference time has made to the way women's behaviour is judged. Iris's nonconformity to social norms…moreI thought that it was more to highlight the difference time has made to the way women's behaviour is judged. Iris's nonconformity to social norms isn't considered especially odd and doesn't have any negative impact on her her life or well-being, while Esme's lesser nonconformity causes her to be deprived of her freedom for 61 years. (less)

Community Reviews

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Aug 26, 2011 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 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 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ovo je moj prvi susret sa Megi O'Farel i moram priznati da me nije ostavio ravnodušnim.
Kako je nestajala Esmi Lenoks je izuzetan roman koji govori o ljudskom licemerju, licu i naličju jednog društva kojeg vode društveno prihvaćene šeme ponašanja pri čemu se sve što od njih odstupa stigmatizuje kao čista devijacija. Ovo je i roman o krađi: ličnosti, originalnosti ali pre svega budućnosti. Ali pre svega, ovo je roman o jednoj velikoj tajni... a tajne uvek nađu neki način da isplivaju na videlo.
Angela M
Aug 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Hannah Gordon, Frances Grey and Eleanor Bron begin Maggie O'Farrell's highly acclaimed novel set between the conventions of 1930's Edinburgh and the freedoms of today.

Description: 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 Hospit
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
Diane S ☔
Mar 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
The theme of this book is the ease with which women in the past could be incarcerated in an insane asylum, often simply at the whim of a family relative. A secondary theme is the subordinate role of women in times past. Get married and have kids; that was our role. Times have changed, thankfully, but even back then some women would not be shoved into that mold.

If you read two books that are similar, it is impossible not to make comparisons. I have not long ago read Anna Hope's book of historica
Sep 03, 2008 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
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
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
4,5. Hay personajes con los que resulta muy fácil empatizar e incluso sentirte un poco identificada. Esme. Esa chica que prefería leer a hacer lo que se esperaba de ella por su condición de mujer. Esme la rara. Y cuando una es rara o incómoda en una época donde la mujer no vale nada y está bajo la tutela del hombre (padre o marido), entonces "desaparece".
Me ha encantado la narrativa de Maggie, la estructura... al principio un poco caótica para ir tomando forma y sentido. He adorado a Esme, me ha
Nov 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Una historia victoriana, nunca suficientemente contada, narrada con un estilo actual, fresco y ágil. Érase una vez una chica a la que la tocó vivir en una época en la que ser una misma y disfrutar de la propia felicidad estaba condenado con un nombre: histeria. Y el castigo era el encierro en un psiquiátrico. ¿Qué es eso de no llevar guantes? ¿Qué es eso de no querer casarse y decir que quieres ir a la Universidad? ¿Qué es eso de no mostrarte dulce, sumisa y obediente? La Madre corta las alas, e ...more
Sonia Gomes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 17, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Shawn Mooney
Oct 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
I’m a bit late to the O’Farrell party, but I think I might be here to stay! A fascinatingly screwed-up woman discovers a great-aunt she never knew about, now released from a psychiatric institution after more than 5 decades; as secret after secret unfurls, as she begins to take responsibility for this aunt, the protagonist begins to own her own secret, illicit desires. In economical, deceptively simple prose, O’Farrell roped me all the way in.
Feb 07, 2009 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!
Dec 24, 2007 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
Lisa McLemon
Oct 29, 2007 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
May 07, 2008 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.
Cris Díaz
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Un libro que me llegó por casualidad y cuya lectura ha supuesto el descubrimiento de una autora que me ha picado totalmente.
Una narración compleja y rica, una protagonista maravillosa que esconde mucho y unos secundarios que completan un puzzle sin dejar un solo hueco.
Desde luego, breve pero lleno de emociones.
Sinceramente, cuando he leído la última letra quería más, no quería dejar a esas dos mujeres. Supongo que eso dice algo.
Jan 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sonja Arlow
Jun 02, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 23, 2010 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
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Una novela que esconde más de lo que a simple vista puede parecer. Brillante narración aunque también compleja, ha habido veces que me perdía (no sabía bien quién era el narrador, pasado unas páginas ya no dudaba). Una historia en la que conforme avanzas encajan todas las piezas y te quedas con ganas de leer más.
Jan 03, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Katy Noyes
May 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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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.” 50 likes
“It is a terrible thing to want something you cannot have. It takes you over. I couldn't think straight because of it. There was no one else, I realized, whom I could possibly tell.” 14 likes
More quotes…