The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
ISBN # 9780755308446
Publisher: Headline Review
First Published: 2007
Set between the 1930s,and the present, Maggie O'Farrell's new novel is the story of Esme, a woman edited out of her family's history, and of the secrets that come to light when, sixty years later, she is released from care, and a young woman, Iris, discovers the great aunt she never knew she had. The mystery that unfolds is the heartbreaking tale of two sisters in colonial India and 1930s Edinburgh - of the loneliness that binds them together and the rivalries that drive them apart, and lead one of them to a shocking betrayal - but above all it is the story of Esme, a fiercely intelligent, unconventional young woman, and of the terrible price she is made to pay for her family's unhappiness.
To begin with I had a bit of a problem with the third person, present tense; especially when it's jumping from one character to the next, but I enjoyed the story readily identified with poor Esme - such a tragedy for a woman to be locked away for 60 years (especially as I suspect there was absolutely nothing wrong with her mind when she was put there...).
What interested me a great deal was the fact that the only character who “spoke” in the first person, present tense, was Kitty, who was suffering from such severe dementia that her internalised thoughts spilled out unchecked, often beginning mid-sentence and leaving other thoughts unfinished. It was a poignant reminder of how deeply the mind is affected by senility.
This was such an easy book to read and despite being able to see exactly where things were going, I still wanted to read on, as I wanted to hear it from the point of view of Esme, Kitty and Iris - three wonderfully strong characters. I'll certainly be reading more of Maggie's books in the future!