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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - review

The front cover of this book declares The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell "almost ridiculously pleasurable" - and I am inclined to agree with it.

Sisters Esme and Kitty move to Scotland from India as young girls, after the tragic death of their baby brother. While Kitty adapts to her new life admirably, Esme struggles to fit into Scottish ways and has little interest in the "proper" customs of courtship and expectations of women in the 1920s.

Esme becomes a wild child in the eyes of her parents, and an embarrassment to Kitty due to her controversial behaviour. When Kitty has her heart set on a young bachelor who falls for Esme instead, a wedge is driven between the sisters that lasts over sixty years.

Things come to a head when Esme is put into a mental institution at the hands of her parents. She is institutionalized not knowing it was Kitty's statement that sealed the deal, and also harboring a dark secret of her own.

60 years later, Iris learns that she has a great aunt due to be released from the local loony bin, and that she has been named as the next of kin. She has never heard of Esme - supposedly her grandmother Kitty's sister - but how can this be? When she visits Esme to find out more, a heartbreaking story of loss is unraveled.

I will admit that the premise of this novel sounds like a Catherine Cookson / Danielle Steel type book - but don't let this put you off. The story is beautifully written, well paced and pulls you into the polar worlds of the two sisters brilliantly. All the characters were believable and although dialogue was rare, what was said was important and I didn't feel the scarce conversation affected the pacing in a bad way.

If there was any detriment to the novel, I would say that it was the present tense the book is written in. The book is constantly time-shifting into different eras of the girls' lives - not denoted by any visual aid / new chapters etc. - and, due to the present tense, the fact that a time shift had occurred often came as a surprise midway through a topic. It's only a small gripe, but I found that it interrupted the flow of the story to be jolted into this realisation every now and then...

Overall I would highly recommend The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. It's a great book of characters, and shocking without being ludicrous. It often reminded me of Downton Abbey, if I can be forgiven for saying that(!) and I was a little sad when it ended - especially with the way events were left at the conclusion.

If you have read this book - why not leave your own thoughts in the comments?

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