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

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The Vanishing Act of Esme LennoxIris Lockhart receives a phone call from a psychiatric hospital informing her that she’s been given power of attorney over her great-aunt, Esme, who has been a “resident” of the hospital for 61 years. But Iris has never heard of Esme Lennox, who is supposedly her grandmother, Kitty’s sister. Her grandmother now has Alzheimer’s and her father is dead. The hospital is closing and Iris doesn’t know what to do with this woman who may be out of her mind.

In The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O’Farrell creates a haunting story of a girl who was locked away in an institution at the age of 16. Esme’s life before her institutionalization is revealed slowly through Esme’s thoughts and those of her sister, Kitty. Iris’s own story is intermingled with that of her great aunt. I love how O’Farrell shows the similarities between Esme and Iris in the way they rebel from societal rules. Esme does so through her disregard for the proper dress and formalities of her time. Iris does so through her clandestine relationships with her stepbrother and a married lawyer.

I read somewhere a comparison of the style of this novel and that of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I have to say I agree in terms of the feeling the stories evoke and the way each author takes the mystery straight through to the last page. But I personally didn’t enjoy Rebecca at all; yet, I loved The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. I think this is because I felt so strongly for the characters in this novel. And O’Farrell, while she presents many of Esme’s and Kitty’s thoughts in a stream-of-consciousness way, kept the story moving forward. I didn’t feel that the descriptions were dragging the story at all.

I highly recommend The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox to anyone who enjoys mystery and literature. I read it in just two days ~ I had a hard time putting it down as I was anxious to see how Esme ended up in the institution, and what was going to become of her in the end. It also made a great selection for my book club as there were plenty of topics to discuss.


Julie lives in Wake County and is mom to two kids: a preschooler and a 2nd grader. She enjoys reading a wide range of books, and shares her reviews here and on her blog ( She can also be found on Twitter @MyBookRetreat

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Posted by on April 13, 2012. Filed under Books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.