When I discovered that newbooks magazine would be having a Maggie O’Farrell retrospective (nb 88- available now from here) I thought I would go some way to putting right the oversight which means that up until now I had not read any of her books. I found her 4th novel dating from 2006 sitting on the local library shelves and although this was my first Maggie O’Farrell it will not be the last.
Esme has been incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for over sixty years. When the hospital is due for closure her grand-niece who has never heard of Esme’s existence takes responsibility. This is a beautifully written novel imbued throughout with a sense of what might have been. Esme’s life before her time in hospital flashbacks through her mind, her sister Kitty’s thoughts ramble in the haze of Alzheimer’s and Iris, the niece, has her own issues holding her back.
It is a novel of restraint, both in how the characters have been held back by their circumstances and the spare effective style. I felt completely captivated by Esme’s unpredictability and her personal tragedies and was horrified by her family’s ignorance and ill-treatment of her .O’Farrell builds the story beautifully and the plot twists and turns are shocking yet realistic. Motives and actions that might seem far-fetched in the hands of less talented writers are made convincingly plausible. I found it very difficult to put the book down and the catastrophe of Esme’s needless sixty year hospitalisation will stay with me for some time.
I love an author willing to let a cat in on the act!
Maggie O’Farrell is from Northern Ireland and currently lives in Edinburgh. She won the Costa Best Novel award in 2010 for “The Hand That First Held Mine”. In 2013 she was shortlisted for the same prize for “Instructions For A Heatwave”. Her latest novel “This Must Be The Place” is published in May 2016. I have some catching up to do.
The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox was published in 2006. I read the hardback published by Headline. The paperback is published by Tinder Press.
5 thoughts on “100 Essential Books – The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox- Maggie O’Farrell (Headline 2006)”
I read something similar to this a few years ago. A young woman in the nineteen twenties had been raped and subsequently had a child. Her story of the rape was not believed by her family and her mother, who sounded like the woman from hell, had her put away. It was her brother that fought for many years to have her released and was eventually successful, but by then the damage had been done. It was compelling reading if harrowing at times and had me reduced to tears on more than one ocassion, it stayed with me for a long time. It’s hard to believe that people were incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals for trivial things and not so long ago either. This book sounds like something I would like. Another good review Phil.
If you haven’t read this author before, Kay, I think she is well worth discovering.
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