Thursday, March 20, 2008

A hidden life

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is an incredible book. Maggie O'Farrell has written a tender, wrenching story of a woman whose life has been a complete disaster. This woman, Esme Lennox, was bright, defiant, original, and ornery as a child, and that became her downfall. She enters the life of Iris Lockheart, who is her great-niece, very suddenly and unexpectedly. Iris leads a solitary but somewhat complicated life in Edinburgh, and she discovers quite out of the blue that (1) she has a great-aunt, and (2) this aunt is being released into her care after serving more than 60 years in a mental institution. We learn Esme's backstory gradually as we witness Iris and Esme's meeting and tentative relationship. We also learn about Iris's entanglements with a married man and with her beloved stepbrother. The fullness and richness of lives reduced dramatically by circumstances beyond their control made me have to catch my breath numerous times while reading this book. No one really gets what they want or need in this book, but it's still a satisfying journey for the reader because of its thought-provoking power. You will love and empathize with Esme after reading this book.