Book Review: Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Posted May 7, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Maggie O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

in Hardcover edition on October 24, 2007 and has 245 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

An odd look at the horrid history of a small family.

My Take

A friend at Goodreads recommended this story, and I’m sorry I ever picked it up. It was a horror to read and to read about. I can’t understand people like these. And that sister???! Omigod.

I keep wanting to say this was well-written, that O’Farrell used words well. And she did, but only in fits and starts. She flits back and forth between Esme’s youth, Iris’ youth, over to Kitty’s life, and back to today from paragraph to paragraph, within paragraphs and never gives you a heads up. It’s like being on a mental Tilt’a Whirl. It’s such a confusion of words that it’s probably won some literary award.

It is a terrifying look at the social rules and fears of the time — I’m thinking it was the early part of the twentieth century. It’s also a time when children were not heard. And obviously, in some families, unloved if they didn’t fit within their parents’ narrow idea of acceptable.

The best I can say is just read and absorb. It will make sense, it will be awful, and there is no resolution. Do try to read it all in one sitting, or you’ll end up having to go back to figure out what’s going on. Not that it’ll help…

The Story

Iris Lockhart is stunned to learn she is listed as the responsible party for a great-aunt she never knew existed.

The Characters

Esme Lennox was a free spirit who didn’t fit in with her family and their staid expectations. And thank god for today’s looser expectations and tighter rules!

Iris Lockhart runs a vintage clothing shop. Kitty Lennox Lockhart is her grandmother and, unknown to everyone still alive, Esme’s sister. Hugo was the Lennox sisters’ baby brother. Luke is Iris’ married, lawyer boyfriend; Gina is his pregnant wife. Alex is her step-brother and former lover. Fran is Alex’s wife. George was Alex’s dad who hooked up for a short time with Iris’ mom, Sadie.

Jamie Dalziel thought he was all that; Duncan Lockhart was his friend with an eye to Kitty.

The Cover and Title

The colors in the cover are beautiful: a complement of peaches and turquoise from that fateful night, the party from which The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox occurred. Was she too beautiful to resist in her turquoise chiffon-and-sequined gown?