Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

DATE PUBLISHED: 2006 DATE READ: June 2009 NOTES: Iris is a single woman with her own business living in Edinburgh. She has a lover and also a married step-brother who continually makes a play for her. Iris is shocked to receive information that she has a great-aunt in a mental institution who is about to be released into the community. At first she refuses to have anything to do with her but is soon intrigued and drawn into a relationship with Esme. Esme Lennox was born in India and lived there for her early childhood. She was a rebellious child (though never malicious) and causes despair in her older sister and her strait-laced parents. She continues to defy convention after the family moves back to Scotland – says she has not wish to be married and wants to continue with her education and go to university. Her family is horrified by this – marriage in the 1930s was the only respectable choice for females of her class. After an incident at a dance Esme becomes hysterical and she is put in a mental institution. She is left there with no contact with her family for over sixty years. It is a story of betrayal – Esme is betrayed by her family, especially by her sister Kitty. None of the male characters can be trusted. Kitty’s husband lets her down, James deceives Esme, Alex (though married) lusts after Iris and Luke (Iris’s lover) is clearly never going to leave his wife. The story is told in a mixture of flashbacks and memories of both Kitty and Esme. (This is not altogether a successful technique as it is not always clear who is speaking). The time in India is very well portrayed as is Esme’s unhappy time as a young girl in Edinburgh. Although we know that the cruel incarceration of difficult young women was a reality of the time I would like to have learned more about her time in the institution. Did she have access to books, newspapers or television? Also the ending was somewhat abrupt. But nonetheless an interesting story that keeps you turning the pages.

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