Friday, May 4, 2012

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox puts a modern spin on the “mad woman in the attic” motif. After spending more than sixty years in a mental hospital, Esme Lennox is released to the custody of her great niece, Iris. Iris, having never heard of Esme, is taken completely unawares by this turn of events. Because of the coping skills Esme developed in the hospital, great wariness and strict self-control, she refrains from telling Iris much about herself. Iris’s only other relative, Kitty, her grandmother and Esme’s older sister, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and unable to give any coherent answers to Iris’s questions. Despite their inability or reluctance to talk, the sisters have vivid interior memories (Esme’s clear and concise, Kitty’s befuddled and disjointed). It is from these memories that the reader is able to piece together Esme’s story, a story of tragic consequences for a young woman of an earlier generation who could not live up to society’s rigid expectations of her.