The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell
Read for the Winter Reading Challenge
I nearly didn't buy this book being put off by the title which evoked memories of the film The Prestige. The only magic here though is beautiful writing and unforgettable characters.
The story revolves around 3 women. Esme who has been shut away in a psychiatric unit for nearly 60 years. Her sister Kitty who is in a nursing home slowly losing the fight with Alzheimers and Iris, Kitty's granddaughter.
The three women have very distinct voices and completely caught me up in their stories, their feelings and their ideas. Kitty's stream of consciousness, mixing past and present is particularly effective.
At the heart of the story is a great betrayal that left me shocked and heartbroken. It is also the exploration of how the past effects the present and how our heritage effects the choices we make.
"We are all, Esme decided, 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."
The idea that nothing really changes was an interesting one. Esme is shut away by her family because she is unconventional. Years later Iris seems to be free to live her life as unconventionally as she wishes but she is equally trapped. Denying the love she feels through fear of what others will think.
The writing was beautiful and I forced myself to read slowly and savour it. The characters are wonderful and engaging and they stayed with me long after I had finished the book. I wanted to know what happened to them and what choices they made after the disturbing final act.
It is definitely a book I will read again and again.