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The Vanishing Act
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The Vanishing Act

4.3 3
by Mette Jakobsen

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"The best stories change you. I am not the same after The Vanishing Act as I was before.”—Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
On a small snow-covered island—so tiny that it can’t be found on any map—lives twelve-year-old Minou, her philosopher Papa (a descendent of Descartes), Boxman the magician, and a clever dog called


"The best stories change you. I am not the same after The Vanishing Act as I was before.”—Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus
On a small snow-covered island—so tiny that it can’t be found on any map—lives twelve-year-old Minou, her philosopher Papa (a descendent of Descartes), Boxman the magician, and a clever dog called No-Name. A year earlier Minou’s mother left the house wearing her best shoes and carrying a large black umbrella. She never returned.
One morning Minou finds a dead boy washed up on the beach. Her father decides to lay him in the room that once belonged to her mother. Can her mother’s disappearance be explained by the boy? Will Boxman be able to help find her? Minou, unwilling to accept her mother’s death, attempts to find the truth through Descartes’ philosophy. Over the course of her investigation Minou will discover the truth about loss and love, a truth that The Vanishing Act conveys in a voice that is uniquely enchanting.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Jakobsen’s debut novel is the refreshingly pared-down story of one girl’s tiny world and the life lessons available in the smallest of existences. A year after Minou’s Mama disappeared from the tiny island where she and her Papa make their home, the body of a dead boy washes up on shore. Everyone else on the island—Priest, Boxman, and Papa—believes that Mama is dead, but Minou remains unconvinced. Following the logic-based deductions imparted to her by her philosopher father, Minou relives the events leading up to Mama’s disappearance, searching for signs and hopeful that the dead boy may provide a clue. The night before Mama left, she, Minou, and Boxman, a circus man with a broken heart, had collaborated on a dangerous act that made Mama vanish, and Mama’s yearning for an existence outside the island is made painfully clear. The sweet yet pragmatic 12-year-old girl watches Papa’s search for “the absolute truth” grate against Mama’s love for the imagined, slowly unraveling their partnership. Jakobsen creates a lot with a little and builds on universals, proving that some truths are, in fact, fundamental. Agent: David Forrer, Inkwell Management. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Jakobsen's debut novel offers a dance between fantasy and reality on a tiny, remote island that's home to a handful of people seeking refuge from their experiences in "the war" (presumably World War II). The story is told through the voice of young Minou, whose father, claiming to be a descendant of Descartes, attempts to live his life by pure reason. Minou's mother, on the other hand, thrives on flights of fancy and does her best to give the artist in her soul free rein. One day, Mother suddenly vanishes—and a year later a dead boy in a boat arrives on shore. Minou strives to deal with these puzzling events, as do her quirky neighbors, in their equally puzzling little island world. VERDICT Fairy tale or fable? Either way, Jakobsen's work evokes the mysteries of a snowy, faraway outpost where people seem to have settled on "living the questions." This unusual journey will appeal to readers who appreciate a mix of fantasy, philosophy, and ambiguity.—Susanne Wells, Indianapolis P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
A young girl comes to terms with her mother's disappearance in Jakobsen's undernourished debut novel. Picture a small, nameless island in a northern clime, by deep, cold waters surrounded. Seventeen pines and an apple tree grow, on a high plateau the wind gusts, in one inlet fishing is good. There are but two houses, one attached to a lighthouse, and a church. Minou, 12 when we meet her, lives with her Mama and Papa next to the lighthouse. Boxman, a retired magician, and his dog, No Name, occupy the other, and Priest, naturally, is at home in the church. Minou is a descendant, on her Papa's side, of Descartes. She and Papa have a philosophical cast of mind; Mama, who arrived on the island with a pet peacock in a golden bowl, is impulsive and imaginative. When he is not fishing, cooking or trying to forget terrible hardships suffered in an unnamed war, Papa is searching, like his father before him, for the "absolute truth." Minou finds a dead boy on the beach. Out of respect for the dead, Papa opts to keep the boy in the house until the boat comes. Minou's Papa stays up talking to the dead boy and instructs his daughter to sit with the corpse during the day. No danger of putrefaction, because Papa leaves a window open in the room, and it is winter in this nameless place. This actual death and associated discoveries prompt Minou to tell us about her life on the island and her mother's vanishing. The adults think Mama is dead. Minou can prove she is not. But almost nothing can happen when characters are mere amalgams of quirks. In more capable hands this material would have been dispatched in 20 pages. A saccharine fable.

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Mette Jakobsen was born in Denmark in 1964. She holds degrees in philosophy and creative writing and is the author of several plays. The Vanishing Act is her first novel. She lives in Sydney, Australia.

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The Vanishing Act: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Sister-P More than 1 year ago
The Vanishing Act is a well written and captivating story with mixture of fantasy and philosophy. This story is like a beautiful painting whose brush strokes are poetic and descriptive. The central theme is about a twelve year old girl named Minou and the disappearance of her mother. One day her mother puts on her best shoes, takes her big black umbrella and walks out the house never to be seen again. Everyone thinks she is dead, except for Minou. She does not believe her mother is dead, but will return one day. She keeps a journal, building a case with the reasons why she believes her mother is still alive. While Minou was walking on the beach, she comes across the body of a dead boy. She runs to tell her father. Her father comes and carries the dead boy to their home. He decides to put the dead boy on the bed in Minou's mother's blue room until the ship arrives in three days. In the interim, he opens the window to make sure the boy's body remains frozen. Minou's father is a philosopher from the descendant of Descartes searching for the absolute truth. Both Minou and her father struggle to find answers and figure out what happened. Her father believes the key to finding the absolute truth is somehow connected to the dead boy's body. He thinks he will get the answer (as does Minou) by sitting with him for three days until the ship arrives. Minou and her father live on a small, remote island surrounded by the ocean. I get the impression the island is in the middle of nowhere. The only people living on this isolated island is Minou, her papa, a Priest, Boxman the magician and his dog, No Name. You never quite know where any of them come from (except for Minou) and/or how they wound up on the island. However, there is mystery surrounding Minou's mother's arrival to the island as well as her departure. Minou's mother disappears the following day after performing in Boxman's magic show, called "The Vanishing Act". The only item found was one of the shoes she wore the day she left. There is an underlying melancholy theme throughout the book. Between Minou's complex and troubled father, who was traumatized by a war. The disappearance of her free spirited, artistic mother with a troubled past. The pretzel making Priest and his inability to sleep in the dark. The mysterious Boxman the magician and his lost love named Cosmina. The Vanishing Act keeps you guessing and coming back for more. I enjoyed reading The Vanishing Act and recommend this thoughtful novel to everyone. In conclusion, I want to personally thank Erin Sinesky Lovett from W.W. Norton & Company for sending me a complimentary copy of this book to read and review.