Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Such a great premise. A never-mentioned great aunt is released from a Scottish psychiatric hospital after 61 years, 5 months and 3 days into the care of an unwitting twenty-something boutique owner who still lives in the flat that was once the site of the offending act that put the aforementioned relative away all those years ago. Certainly bonds are to be formed and dark family secrets are to be revealed...Sounds good, doesn't it?

Unfortunately, what could be a dark and twisting tale of secrets, lies and those unspeakable things that pass from generation to generation is mucked up by a few awkward sub-plots involving an amorous step-brother and a married boyfriend and a flash-back style that just didn't sit well on the page.

Maybe I haven't read enough Scottish literature, but for this American reader, the leaping back and forth between present-day action and the scattered memories surfacing in the mind of an Alzheimers patient with little-to-no transition was frustrating, and could have been written so much better! I'd like to challenge author Maggie O'Farrell to rewrite The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, using the same fascinating main plot, but giving the text a makeover, bringing some of the elegance of the family's aristocratic beginnings to the words on the page. I would also like to see her drop certain sub-plots and explore the relationship between Iris the grandniece and the vintage clothing and objects she so adores.

As is, the novel would likely be a good choice for a book club. There is a lot to infer and an ending that could be open to interpretation. It was a quick read, did - in fact, keep my attention and the cover art on the edition I had was beautiful.

"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."

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