The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

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Maggie O'Farrell's captivating and critically acclaimed gothic tale of family secrets and the irrepressible freedom that truth brings

Chic and independent, Iris Lockhart is tending to her vintage-clothing shop in Edinburgh (and evading her married boyfriend) when she receives a stunning phone call: her great-aunt Esme—whom she never knew existed—is being released from Cauldstone Hospital, where she has been locked away for more than sixty years. Iris’s grandmother Kitty always ...

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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

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Maggie O'Farrell's captivating and critically acclaimed gothic tale of family secrets and the irrepressible freedom that truth brings

Chic and independent, Iris Lockhart is tending to her vintage-clothing shop in Edinburgh (and evading her married boyfriend) when she receives a stunning phone call: her great-aunt Esme—whom she never knew existed—is being released from Cauldstone Hospital, where she has been locked away for more than sixty years. Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her father in Esme’s face. Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world—but she's still basically a stranger, a family member hidden away who will surely bring secrets with her when she leaves the ward. Moving expertly among the voices of Iris, Kitty, and Esme herself, Maggie O'Farrell reveals the story of Esme's tragic and haunting absence.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
"Let us begin with two girls at a dance," writes Maggie O'Farrell, and the reader is immediately pulled into a journey across continents, generations, and the hidden landscapes of the heart. The story she tells encompasses the confused present of a contemporary young woman, Iris Lockhart; the unsuspected past of Iris's grandmother, Kitty, adrift in the forgetfulness of Alzheimer's; and the long-concealed life of Kitty's sister Esme, who has spent a lifetime institutionalized for refusing to accept the conventions of 1930s Edinburgh society.

At the novel's opening, Iris's complicated life demands all her attention: Her vintage clothing shop barely turns a profit, she's having an affair with a married man, and she's never fully reconciled her intense attraction to her step-brother. But all this is pushed aside when Esme's existence is revealed to her, and she discovers that a great-aunt she never knew has been locked away for 60 years, a patient in a mental hospital that's preparing to close its doors for good. After initially refusing to do so, Iris decides to care for Esme and brings the elderly stranger into her home. As the two women become acquainted, Esme's memories -- the childhood she and Kitty shared in India, the death of their young brother, the family's migration to Scotland, and Esme's youthful rebellion against the mores of her class -- transform Iris's sense of her family's past, opening a vault of secrets that will change the character of everything she thought she knew. With seamless narrative artistry, O'Farrell weaves an enthralling tale -- and builds page-turning suspense -- while shifting between Iris's and Esme's points of view, illuminating both with Kitty's fractured but vivid recollections. The taut fabric of the novel's telling enmeshes the reader in a tangled web of jealousy, deception, and betrayal that is shocking, heartbreaking, and unforgettable. Alive with the energy of trapped desires, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a riveting work of literary imagination.

About the Author
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is Maggie O'Farrell's fourth novel. Her debut, After You'd Gone, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, won a 2001 Betty Trask Award from Britain's Society of Authors, which has also honored O'Farrell's work with its Somerset Maugham Award. Prior to her work as a novelist, she held positions as a teacher and an arts administrator; she also worked as a journalist, both in Hong Kong and as the Deputy Literary Editor of London's The Independent on Sunday.

Of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, O'Farrell says, "It is a novel I've wanted to write for a long time. I first had the idea -- of a woman who is incarcerated in an asylum for a lifetime -- 15 years ago…. The idea never went away, and I gradually amassed more and more stories and examples of girls who had been committed in the early 20th century for little more than being disobedient or recalcitrant." As she wrestled with the imagining of Esme's stolen life, O'Farrell paid weekly visits to women who had been institutionalized for decades for such "transgressions" as trying to elope or refusing to marry. In an especially poignant exchange, one of them asked O'Farrell if she had been allowed to keep the baby she had recently given birth to.

Maggie O'Farrell was born in Northern Ireland in 1972 and grew up in Wales and Scotland. She now lives with her family in Edinburgh.

Praise for The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

From Our Booksellers
Full of emotion and mystery, this novel took off at warp speed and never let up 'til the very end.
--Margie Turkett, Annapolis, MD

Heartbreaking. A riveting tale of a stolen life.
--Lynn Oris, St. Peters, MO

A compelling read about family secrets and shortcomings. O'Farrell's unfolding tale of individuality and betrayal in the face of social expectations is astounding.
--Sandra Guerfi, White Plains, NY

Immediately gripping and mysterious, I devoured it.
--Rosey McArdell, Apple Valley, MN

A haunting novel. I read it in one sitting! The ending was a shocker, and I have to admit, rather gratifying.
--Angel Ramandt, Baltimore, MD

From Writers and Reviews
I found this actually unputdownable, written with charge and energy and a kind of compelling drive, a clarity and a gripping dramatic insidiousness reminiscent of classic writers like Rebecca West and Daphne du Maurier.
--Ali Smith, author of The Accidental

The novel is brilliant in every way…. Maggie O'Farrell has written a taut, fragile mystery of relationships and deception.
--Literary Review

Thoughtful, warm, elegantly written and totally shocking…a fantastic read, a real page-turner.
--Daily Express

This haunting and extraordinarily engrossing novel -- part gothic mystery, part tangled family drama -- reminded me why I love reading in the first place….
--Carolyn Parkhurst, author of The Dogs of Babel
From the Publisher
"I found this actually unputdownable, written with charge and energy and a kind of compelling drive, a clarity and a gripping dramatic insidiousness reminiscent of classic writers like Rebecca West and Daphne du Maurier."—Ali Smith

"Almost ridiculously pleasurable . . . shocking, heartbreaking, and fascinating."—The Times (London)

Ron Charles
Maggie O'Farrell's three previous novels have been respectfully reviewed, but her new one radiates the kind of energy that marks a classic. Think Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Charlotte Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" or Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea: stories that illuminate the suffering quietly endured by women in polite society. To that list of insightful feminist tales add The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. At the heart of this fantastic new novel is a mystery you want to solve until you start to suspect the truth, and then you read on in a panic, horrified that you may be right.
—The Washington Post
Julia Scheeres
O'Farrell is a very visual writer, creating dead-on images like the "arched pink rafters" of a dog's mouth and a chandelier's "points of light kaleidoscoping" above a dance floor. This talent serves her well at the novel's startling and darkly rewarding finale.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

O'Farrell (After You'd Gone) delivers an intricate, eloquent novel of family malice, longings and betrayal. Slim, stylish Iris Lockhart runs a dress shop in contemporary Edinburgh when she's not flirting with her stepbrother Alex or rendezvousing with her married attorney lover, Luke. Esme Lennox, meanwhile, is ready to be discharged from the soon-to-be-closed psychiatric hospital where she's been a patient (read: virtual prisoner) for 61 years. Iris becomes aware of Esme's existence when she's informed, to her disbelief, that she has been granted power of attorney over Esme by Kitty Lockhart, Iris's Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother. It turns out Kitty and Esme are sisters, but Kitty kept quiet about Esme after she was hospitalized at age 16. Layer upon layer of Lockhart family secrets are laid bare-the truth behind Esme's institutionalization, why her existence was kept a secret, and a twist involving Iris's parents-as Iris mulls over what to do with her new charge, and Esme and Kitty reconnect. O'Farrell maintains a high level of tension throughout, and the conclusion is devastating. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
"A moving human drama."
Library Journal

Iris Lockhart leads a solitary if spicy life, managing her clothing shop in Edinburgh and dallying with her married lover. But when Iris learns that she has a great-aunt Esme waiting to be released from Cauldstone Hospital, where she has been locked away for 60 years, it is as if a bomb has dropped. The hospital is closing, and someone must collect Esme, who upon inspection seems frail, quiet, and a little quirky but hardly mentally ill. As far as Iris knew, her grandmother Kitty had no siblings; Kitty is still alive but suffering from Alzheimer's. The secret of Esme's existence is only the first of many family secrets revealed in a tale told through shifting viewpoints, among them Kitty's fragmented recollections. A sudden ending to this finely wrought family exposé may leave some readers in the lurch, but the psychological suspense along the way should satisfy those looking for both strong plot and characterization. O'Farrell's (After You'd Gone) fourth novel is recommended for literary fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ6/1/07.]
—Keddy Ann Outlaw

Kirkus Reviews
When the willfully unattached Iris Lockhart receives a call about a great aunt she never met, her loner lifestyle gets woven into a much larger family drama. Iris may harbor a secret forbidden passion, but in her real-life affairs she prefers a detached approach. Therefore, when a call comes from the soon-to-close Cauldstone Hospital, asking what she would like to do with an elderly relative she didn't know existed, she is faced with more intimacy than she's comfortable with. Her great-aunt Esme, mistakenly called "Euphemia" by the staff, has been hospitalized for more than 60 years for various vague psychiatric disorders, at one point it seems for simply not wanting her hair to be cut. After Iris tries to place her, and recoils from the horrors of the recommended halfway house, she takes her into her own flat, carved out of the Scottish family's original grand home, on a trial basis. Over the course of one long weekend, that trial reveals truths about why Esme was hospitalized and why Iris never heard of her, and also delves into Iris's fear of intimacy as her married lover, Luke, teeters on the edge of leaving his wife. Relying on a complex structure that recalls O'Farrell's earlier work (My Lover's Lover, 2003, etc.), most of the book's present action is focused on Iris's day-to-day functioning. But this contemporary action is merely the finale of a drama that's been going on since Esme's youth in India. That story unfolds primarily through a series of inner monologues. Esme enjoys rediscovering some memories but avoids others, while her sister Kitty, now institutionalized with Alzheimer's, runs through old mistakes and excuses that still haunt her in her dementia. At times, thesecompeting voices, each with a different take on exactly what happened, can be confusing, but by the novel's surprising ending, each has become clear. Despite occasional opacity, this slow-building, impressionistic work amply rewards dedicated readers with a moving human drama.
author of THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE - Audrey Niffenegger
"The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a strange, sad, and a marvelously well-written novel. I would like to think that families only behave this way in books, but unfortunately betrayal, jealousy, and secrets are all too common in real life. It was a terrific book, I will be thinking about it for a long time."
author of THE DOGS OF BABEL - Carolyn Parkhurst
"This haunting and extraordinarily engrossing novel—part gothic mystery, part tangled family drama—reminded me why I love reading in the first place: it's because a well-written book has the power to carry us away to a place we've never been but always suspected it was there. I'm grateful to Maggie O'Farrell for revealing this story to the world of readers."
"O'Farrell's fourth novel brilliantly illustrates her talent for gradually revealing her characters' inner lives by jumping back and forth in time and juxtaposing different narrative points of view.... A gripping read with superbly crafted scenes that will blaze in the reader's memory long after the novel is returned to the shelf."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156033671
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 6/2/2008
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 200,335
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Maggie O'Farrell

MAGGIE O'FARRELL is the author of four previous novels, including the acclaimed The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which was a B&N Recommends Pick, and After You’d Gone. Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, O'Farrell grew up in Wales and Scotland. She has two children.


Born in Northern Ireland in 1972, and raised in Wales and Scotland, Maggie O'Farrell worked as a journalist in Hong Kong and as an editor at The Independent on Sunday before bursting on the literary scene in 2000 with her acclaimed first novel, After You'd Gone.

An intricate tale that begins at the end and circles inward to reveal the mystery at its heart, After You'd Gone gave readers their first tantalizing taste of qualities that have since become hallmarks of O'Farrell's fiction -- spare, elegant prose; complex characters with intense, sometimes unexpected connections; and a multi-layered narrative that moves back and forth in time and unfolds from several perspectives. The book was reviewed rapturously and went on to win the Betty Trask Award -- a prestigious U.K. prize for first novels given to Commonwealth writers under the age of 35.

Since her extraordinary debut, O'Farrell's fiction has earned more accolades. Her third novel, The Distance Between Us received the 2005 Somerset Maugham Award; and in 2007, O'Farrell achieved international bestsellerdom with The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, a tangled family drama selected for the Barnes & Noble Recommends program.

Praise for the author's writing is lavish. In its review of Vanishing Act..., The New York Times declared, "O'Farrell performs a traditional, old-fashioned storytelling striptease, seductively unveiling layer after layer of revelatory secrets." And The Independent summed up her talents with these words: "Her gift for storytelling is wrapped in gold paper and tied with 15 velvet bows. Give her any synopsis you like and she would probably make it work." In May, 2007, O'Farrell was selected by the British bookstore chain Waterstone's as one of 25 emergent authors predicted to produce the most impressive body of work over the next quarter century.

Good To Know

    Some interesting outtakes from our interview with Maggie:

    "I was once a cycle courier in Hong Kong but was sacked after three days."

    "I have two cats and half a dog (my sister's -- she allows me to share)."

    "I live in what must be one of the coldest houses in Scotland!"

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Read an Excerpt

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 her, 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 are blank with night. The seated girl is dressed in something pale, Esme forgets what, the other in a dark red frock that doesn’t suit her. She has lost her gloves. It begins here.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it begins earlier, before the party, before they dressed in their new finery, before the candles were lit, before the sand was sprinkled on the boards, before the year whose end they are celebrating began. Who knows?

Either way it ends at a grille covering a window with each square exactly two thumbnails wide.

If Esme cares to gaze into the distance – that is to say, at what lies beyond the metal grille – she finds that, after a while, something happens to the focusing mechanism of her eyes. The squares of the grille will blur and, if she concentrates long enough, vanish. There is always a moment before her body reasserts itself, readjusting her eyes to the proper reality of the world, when it is just her and the trees, the road, the beyond. Nothing in between.

The squares at the bottom are worn free of paint and you can see the different layers of colour inside each other, like rings in a tree. Esme is taller than most so can reach the part where the paint is new and thick as tar.

Behind her, a woman makes tea for her dead husband. Is he dead? Or just run off? Esme doesn’t recall. Another woman is searching for water to pour on flowers that perished long ago in a seaside town not far from here. It is always the meaningless tasks that endure: the washing, the cooking, the clearing, the cleaning. Never anything majestic or significant, just the tiny rituals that hold together the seams of human life. The girl obsessed with cigarettes has had two warnings already and everyone is thinking she is about to get a third. And Esme is thinking, where does it begin – is it there, is it here, at the dance, in India, before?

She speaks to no one, these days. She wants to concentrate, she doesn’t like to muddy things with the distraction of speech. There is a zoetrope inside her head and she doesn’t like to be caught out when it stops.

Whir, whir. Stop.

In India, then. The garden. Herself aged about four, standing on the back step.

Above her, mimosa trees are shaking their heads at her, powdering the lawn with yellow dust. If she walked across it, she’d leave a trail behind. She wants something. She wants something but she doesn’t know what. It’s like an itch she can’t reach to scratch. A drink? Her ayah? A sliver of mango? She rubs at an insect bite on her arm and pokes at the yellow dust with her bare toe. In the distance somewhere she can hear her sister’s skipping-rope hitting the ground and the short shuffle of feet in between. Slap shunt slap shunt slap shunt.

She turns her head, listening for other noises. The brrrcloop-brrr of a bird in the mimosa branches, a hoe in the garden soil – scritch, scritch – and, somewhere, her mother’s voice. She can’t make out the words but she knows it’s her mother talking.

Esme jumps off the step, so that both feet land together, and runs round the side of the bungalow. Beside the lily pond, her mother is bending over the garden table, pouring tea into a cup, her father beside her in a hammock. The edges of their white clothes shimmer in the heat. Esme narrows her eyes until her parents blur into two hazy shapes, her mother a triangle and her father a line.

She counts as she walks over the lawn, giving a short hop every tenth step.

‘Oh.’ Her mother looks up. ‘Aren’t you having your nap?’

‘I woke up.’ Esme balances on one leg, like the birds that come to the pond at night.

‘Where’s your ayah? Where’s Jamila?’

‘I don’t know. May I have some tea?’

Her mother hesitates, unfolding a napkin across her knee.

‘Darling, I rather think—’

‘Give her some, if she wants it.’ Her father says this without opening his eyes.

Her mother pours tea into a saucer and holds it out. Esme ducks under her outstretched hand and clambers on to her lap. She feels the scratch of lace, the heat of a body underneath white cotton. ‘You were a triangle and Father was a line.’

Her mother shifts in the seat. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I said, you were a triangle—’

‘Mmm.’ Her mother’s hands grip Esme’s arms. ‘It’s really too hot for cuddles today.’ Esme is set down on the grass again. ‘Why not go and find Kitty? See what she’s up to.’

‘She’s skipping.’

‘Couldn’t you join in?’

‘No.’ Esme reaches out and touches the frosted icing on a bun. ‘She’s too—’

‘Esme,’ her mother lifts her wrist clear of the table, ‘a lady waits to be offered.’

‘I just wanted to see what it felt like.’

‘Well, please don’t.’ Her mother leans back in the chair and shuts her eyes.

Esme watches her for a moment. Is she asleep? A blue vein pulses in her neck and her eyes move under the lids. Tiny globes of water, no bigger than pinheads, are pushing out from the skin above her lip. Where her shoe straps end and skin begins, her mother’s feet bloom red marks. Her stomach is distended, pushed out with another baby. Esme has felt it, wriggling like a caught fish. Jamila says she thinks this one is lucky, that this one will live.

Esme looks up at the sky, at the flies circling the lily flowers on the pond, at the way her father’s clothes protrude from the underside of the hammock in diamonds of loose cloth. In the distance, she can still hear Kitty’s skipping-rope, the scritch, scritch of the hoe – or is it a different one? Then she hears the drone of an insect. She turns her head to see it but it’s gone, behind her, to the left of her. She turns again but it’s closer, the buzz louder, and she feels the catch of its feet in her hair.

Esme springs up, shaking and shaking her head but the buzzing is louder still and suddenly she feels the crawling flutter of wings on her ear. She shrieks, flailing at her head with her hands but the buzzing is deafening now, blocking out all other sounds, and she feels the insect edging inside the narrow passage of her ear – and what will happen, will it eat through her eardrum and into her brain and will she be deaf like the girl in Kitty’s book? Or will she die? Or will it live in her head and she will have this noise inside her for ever?

She lets out another piercing shriek, still shaking her hair, staggering about the lawn, and the shriek turns to sobs and just as the buzzing starts to lift and the insect backs out of her ear, she hears her father saying, ‘What is the matter with the child?’ and her mother calling across the lawn for Jamila.

Could this be her earliest memory? It might be. A beginning of sorts – the only one she remembers.

Or it might be the time Jamila painted a lacework of henna across her palm. She saw her lifeline, her heartline interrupted by a new pattern. Or Kitty falling into the pond and having to be fished out and taken into the house in a towel. Playing jacks with the cook’s children outside the garden’s perimeter. Watching the earth around the muscular trunk of the banyan tree boiling with ants. It could just as easily have been these.

Perhaps it was this. A lunch when she was strapped to a chair, the binding tight across her middle. Because, as her mother announced to the room, Esme must learn to behave. Which, Esme knew, meant not getting out of her chair until the meal was finished. She loved the space under the table, you see, they couldn’t keep her from it, the illicit privacy under the cloth. There is something peculiarly touching about people’s feet. Their shoes, worn down in odd places, the idiosyncrasies in lace-tying, blisters, calluses, who crossed their ankles, who crossed their knees, whose stockings had holes, who wore mismatched socks, who sat with a hand in whose lap – she knew it all. She would slip from her chair, lithe as a cat, and they couldn’t reach to hook her out.

The binding is a scarf that belongs to her mother. It has a pattern Esme likes: repeating swirls in purple, red and blue. Paisley, her mother says it is called, which Esme knows is a place in Scotland.

Copyright © 2006 Maggie O’Farrell

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion
1. Some of the earliest scenes Esme shares with the reader are those from her childhood in India. What do they reveal about Esme, her family, and their place in time and society?
2. Alex and Luke are both married men in love with Iris. Do you think Iris really loves either one of them? Why or why not?
3. O'Farrell's novel is steeped in secrets. As the story of Esme and Kitty unfolds simultaneously with the story of Iris and Alex, O'Farrell offers clues about the true nature of these relationships. How do these two stories relate to each other? How does it affect your feelings about the characters?
4. Why do you think Esme was sent to Cauldstone, and never released to go home? Do you think she is mentally unbalanced? Give examples from the book to support your opinion.
5. Esme is both taken aback and fascinated by many things that Iris shows and tells her. What does Esme find so remarkable about Iris? How are Iris and Esme similar? How are they different?
6. As Iris discovers more about Cauldstone, she discovers some of the more outrageous reasons that women were sent to "mad houses" like it. According to the novel's descriptions of that time period, what do you think drove this trend? Do you think changes have occurred in our view and treatment of women who don't "behave"? Why or why not?
7. O'Farrell creates distinct voices for the three main characters and shifts between their points of view to tell the story. Why do you think the author made this choice? What do the characteristics of these different voices reveal about Iris, Esme, and Kitty? How does this technique affect your reading experience?
8. How will the revelation of Esme and Kitty's secret change Iris's life? Do you think it will alter her relationships with Luke and Alex?
9. What do you make of the ending? What do you imagine will happen to these characters after the last page is turned? Has the author satisfied your interest in these characters?

Further Reading: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys; Good Behaviour by Molly Keane; Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 390 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 390 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2008

    AMAZING and unique story

    I read for pure me a good story. I am a pretty tough critic and I am often disappointed by 'recommended' books. However, this book was absolutely amazing. I was hooked from the very first chapter. Although the book is sad at times the overall feeling when reading it is not sad, simply enjoyable. I wish the ending would have had a bit more resolution however. I will definitely try more titles by this author.

    12 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 30, 2011

    One of the most annoying, incomprehensible books I've ever read!

    The plot would have been good and the story interesting (although not highly original) if the writing style weren't so hideously incomprehensible! There are three main female characters. Half the time I couldn't remotely figure out which character was 'speaking,' what year it was, or what was actually going on! It was the most annoying book I've read in a long, long time. The final insult was the end of the book. It just ended abruptly. Because it was so confusing, the reader never knows what happened at the end of the book. One can definitely speculate, but what's the point of that? It was so frustrating I almost slung my e-reader at the wall when it was finished. I would not recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a relaxing, interesting, consuming read. The first two chapters were well written and certainly made me look forward to reading the rest of the book. Once the three main characters were introduced fully, the writing took on its ridiculous back and forth between the three characters (although it wasn't interaction between the characters) with no indication which was 'speaking,' whose brain you were in or even what they were thinking/talking about; it was just random thoughts. One of the most aggravating parts about this book is that I believe this author has potential as a good writer and yet it was all wasted on a stream of consciousness from three women whom you couldn't identify when their internal dialogues were being switched back and forth rapidly from one paragraph to the next. EXTREMELY ANNOYING!!!! I think this would be an extremely frustrating book club subject. Fortunately, it wasn't a long book. I might try another book by this author, but I would be very skeptical. If a second book was like this one in writing style, I definitely wouldn't give her a third chance.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 11, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Makes the reader realize just how fortunate he or she is!

    A lifetime of betrayal, terrible secrets and disregarded women's rights are revealed in this haunting, provocative novel. Esme Lennox is a spirited girl who refuses to conform to the 1930's social pattern and as a result is locked up by her family in a mental institution. Sixty years later, her great niece, Iris, receives a phone call to tell her that the asylum is closing and she needs to take responsibility for her grandmother's sister.whom she had never heard of. This is one of those books that makes you realize just how fortunate you are!

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 14, 2009

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    Incredibily Great

    This book was so engaging, the story so entralling you are grabbed from the first sentence. I read it in nearly a day and had the hardest time putting it down! The three characters build the suspense and you cannot help but be drawn into the agony that each feels in their situation.

    I loved this book so much that I am going to read the rest of O'Farrell's work!

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2009

    magnificent, heartbreaking, and full of gorgeous prose

    Esme Lennox is not a giddy book. It won't fill you with warm and fuzzy feelings or leave you on a superficially high note or surround you with cotton candy happy thoughts. Instead, it is a magnificent, heartbreaking glimpse into the lives of two women who have never met but have everything in the world in common, except that one of them was lucky enough to be born in thirty years later. O'Farrell is a glorious writer who masterfully tells the story from three different perspectives. And every inch of it - from dusty colonial India to the grim asylum to the streets of modern Edinburgh - rings terribly true to life. This book at first will leave you wondering and hoping and arguing ... but after all that, you'll realize that it didn't really leave you at all.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2008

    Amazing book

    I can't say enough good things about this book. I rarely read fiction (I usually stick with travelogues) but this one caught my eye and I couldn't put it down. An incredibly engrossing story, beautifully written, and it sticks with you long after you finish the book. A must read!!

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2008

    Left me wanting more!

    What a great book. Took me some time to get into it, but I got very involved with the characters. I wanted more and was sorry when it was all too soon, finished... I am really hoping for more of the story.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2008

    Wanted to Love it

    After reading all your reviews, I was so excited to read this book. But I'm sorry to say that I was disappointed. If I'd had no expectations of the book I might have liked it more. But I found it too jumpy. While reading what was apparently journal entries by one of the book's characters, I wondered where they came from? Were we the only ones 'the readers' privy to the journal's information? I would liked to have seen more relationship development between Esme and Iris. Too, I'm still confused about the relationship between Alex and Iris. Why was it significant that Kitty 'caught' them? And for the life of me, I still don't know what happened at the very end of the book. I don't want to say much because I don't want to spoil it. But I re-read the last 3 or 4 pages several times and couldn't believe it ended so abruptly where it was. I just felt like there was a LOT more story that needed to be told. I almost wish one of you would read this and email me to help me figure it out. I read quite a lot yet this book left me confused. I'm not saying it didn't have it's high points. I actually enjoyed 75% of the book. I just felt like structurally, it could have been more fluent and there were some loose ends that needed to be tied up. It's short, so it's worth a read. I'd like to know what other's think.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 1, 2010

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    Forgotten but not gone

    Ms O'Farrell had me within the first few pages. I hated putting this book down each night. Although it was sad, it was so touching and I found myself trying to help Esme in my own mind. It tore at my heart the story of her past and the aloneness she felt. She was different from those immediately around her as she wanted more from life than what was expected of her and tried to break through the boundries set for her. This set her apart from others including her family. When atrocity occurred at a party, which she didn't understand but that horrified her, she had no one that she felt she could turn to. As other times, she found it necessary to bury herself away, as they pushed her away.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2009

    The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a warm and unusual look at the meaning of family.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The main character is foot loose and fancy free with a casual romantic relationship. Suddenly she learns of a family member long hidden away. If you have any knowledge of or interest in mental illness you will find this interesting as the main character develops compassion she didn't know she had. I highly recommend this book and look forward to more from Maggie O'Farrell.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2008

    Loved it

    Read it in one day - easy to follow, but still had interesting twists and turns. Definitely recommend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    Tough read but stay with it.

    I agree with other reviewers that the style of writing that this author uses is difficult to read. It is difficult sometimes to know who

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2012

    Well done, gripping story

    Character development is wonderfully written, the story told in good literary fashion- i will read more of this authors work

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox" is a provocative exploration of the role of women in British Victorian society.

    The story of Esme, her sister and her young relative, depicts the inequality of women throughout the beginning of the 20th century.
    Told in many voices, the story is heartbreaking, sorrowful and full of injustice. It is a great bookclub read as it covers many contraversial subjects.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2009

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    Interesting story line

    I wished there was a little more detail, I felt like the ending was a little rushed. But I really enjoyed it. The author's writing style was very unique, and took me a couple of chapters to get the flow of things, but once I got it, I really enjoyed the story. I can't wait to read the author's other works.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A Sad Tale

    A sad tale of what can sometimes happen (then and now) if you march to the beat of your own drum. The thing I didn't care for in this book was the abrupt and disjointed thoughts by Kitty (maybe other characters too but I can't remember and I don't want to go back and reread it) throughout the story (I think that begins on about page 72 or so). I found the style of it distracting. Esme's plight is heartbreaking and even though her final act is her own personal justice, it didn't leave me cheering for her or Iris.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2008


    I was very surprised by this book. Usually it's not my style, I'm very much into anything scifi or fantasy, however something about this book peaked my interested. In the beginning I was a little concerned but I made myself give the book a chance and I was pleasantly surprised. I do understand where some people are coming from with the short ending, but I think by that point you've developed an understanding of the characters that I dont mind that it wasn't spelled out word for word what happened. Overall I think it's a really good book to read once just because it is so interesting.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2008

    Loved It!!

    This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Couldn't put it down. If anyone doesn't think women's rights have came a long way, read this book. These things really happened!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2008


    This book is absolutely outstanding! I went to my local Barnes and Noble store one night and found it in the clearance section. The cover caught my eye and I read the synopsis. It sounded alright to me so I bought it. I read it in two nights! I couldn't put it down! It has so much depth and meaning. I recommend it entirely!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2008


    I truly connected with this book. I unlike others did not see the twist of plot and the surprise ending. I found the scattered jumping for character to character very interesting and that was what really had me not wanting to put it down. Cliff hanger ending? Not really, we all know what happened to Esme deep down, we just can't imagine her doing something to go back!!! Read and be angry, sad, and justified. The way women 'were' treated! I had no idea, not really.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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