Amy Reads Books

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell 3.5 starsAttitudes towards mental health are something that I've always found quite interesting-at least in England it's quite rare for people to discuss things like therapy openly. However, it was only when I was watching The Kennedys, that random biopic with Katie Holmes in, that I released that people were sent away due to their mental health problems. I hadn't heard of this novel until my Mum highly recommended it to me, and the idea of an unconventional woman being shut away in the relatively modern era of the 1930s seemed really interesting to me. Whilst I didn't love some aspects of the plot, there is a lot of good things to be said about Maggie O'Farrell's novel.The novel is really well written; O'Farrell manages to capture the voices of her characters really well. I particularly liked the way in which we learnt about Esme's past, as present day Esme looks back on her past as the daughter of wealthy parents in the 1920s and 1930s. I also felt that she captured the voice of Kitty, Esme's sister and Iris' grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer's really well; the scattered paragraphs which jumped between time periods were very effective. This was also one of the only split narrative novel where there's a modern character and a historical character, where I actually cared about the modern-day one. Iris was painted as a really interesting character, and so I didn't just want to skip to Esme's sections as I have before.The subject matter of the novel is also dealt with sensitively. In addition to dealing with the total lack of understanding shown towards people suffering from mental health issues, the detailing of the type of things that women could be admitted to a psychiatric hospital was pretty astounding. Things like trying to leave your husband, not wanting to have children, not wanting to have sex with your husband or even wearing the wrong type of clothing could get you locked away for years. O'Farrell contrasts this attitude with the life of Iris who lives alone and is unmarried, something which comes a surprise to Esme.However, there were a couple of aspects of the plot that rubbed me up the wrong way because I've got to the point where I'm fed up of them being used as dramatic devices, so some minor spoilers could follow. It seems that incest is the 'in' thing to add a twist to the story. Futhermore, sexual assault for shock factor and to increase sympathy for female characters is something that is really beginning to wear on me (especially in the aftermath of the Lara Croft news); the character in question already has the reader's sympathies in my view and it just seemed like a step too far on O'Farrell's part-it didn't really seem necessary to the plot (I think the act being consensual would have worked better).That being said, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a well-written and for the most part compelling story about a pretty shocking issue; and is worth a casual read.