Review: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

The Down and Dirty

Iris Lockhart is going about life, minding her own business and trying not to think about the fact that she is in love with her step-brother when *bam*: she finds out she has a great-aunt that she's never heard of who's been locked up in an asylum for the last sixty years. Iris feels compelled to take Aunt Esme under her wing and the novel goes on to reveal the events that led to Esme's lockup while Iris tries to sort out her own life.

The Lit Crit

Wasn't too crazy about this one. The book vacillates between Iris's life and what happened to Esme that led her to lockup in the nuthouse. It took a while to figure out that the random stream-of-consciousness passages were coming from an addle-pated grandmother and that added to the bit of confusion over the rapidly changing points of view in the novel.

Nor was the (adopted, step, whatever) brother/sister-being-in-love-thing working for us. Yes, we understand they weren't blood related. It was still creepy in a V.C. Andrews kind of way.

If you've never read V.C. Andrews, well...don't start. Just don't.

O'Farrell did a nice job of conveying the terrible conditions that existed (and still do, to some extent) asylums during the early 20th-century, but she didn't play enough to this strength. It was one of those novels that could have been great, but fell flat, although we admit the ending was pretty sharp. Ultimately, it needed more One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest quality to really work.

A Reader's Respite's other job

You've got to feel a little sorry for the book that's picked up right after you read a string of excellent novels. Any other time, it would likely have fared a better review.

Our Recommendation

Kinda meh on this one. Don't rush out today to buy it...perhaps a library checkout would be better because it does have a pretty snappy ending.

And by the way, yes it did take a little work to manage TWO Louise Fletcher references in one completely unrelated book review. No applause, please, just throw money.

Title: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Author: Maggie O'Farrell
ISBN-10: 0151014116
256 pages
Publisher: Harcourt
Date: October 24, 2007

More Riveting Opinions in Blogland:

Blue Archipelago
Peaches' Corner
Educating Petunia
Reading and Ruminations
A Bookworm's Musings
Ex Libris Book Reviews
Dovegreyreader Scribbles


  1. Here's 5 bucks. And 5 more for feeling the same way I do about this one. I read it when it first came out, and I'm still wondering why B&N picked it as a recommended book.

  2. It is very difficult for me to pick another book after reading one that I absolutely loved. I remember reading 'A thousand splendid suns' and not liking anything after that. Sad but we need to deal with it :)

    I love the cover of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox though.

  3. I tend to pick up books based on the cover, and this one may have tricked me into buying it. If it makes you feel better, I've not read one positive review on this book, whether it followed on the heels of good reads or not!

  4. Funny, the premise didn't even grab me, so I wouldn't have picked it up anyway. That step-brother/sister thing seems kind of icky!

    Oh, and I'll throw in my $5 too!

  5. I did have trouble following this one at times but I do remember liking it---I think I mostly liked the parts involving the asylum and how things were back then.

  6. I was thinking the stepbrother thing was a little bit of a turnoff too. :)

    I worry about doing justice to a review after reading a set of excellent books too. Maybe I should keep a book on hand that I know is terrible - just for the purpose of reading it after a great set of books. That way there's no where to go but up. I just don't know if I'd be willing to torture myself like that on purpose.

  7. Just as we must appreciate well-written reviews praising books that appear interesting, we must appreciate well-written reviews calmly explaining reasons for disliking books. For this, a tip of my hat.

  8. Softdrink - ha...I may not have cared too much for the book, but I do love Louise Fletcher. ;)

    Violet - ahh, I haven't yet read A Thousand Splendid Suns. I did read The Kite Runner and enjoyed that, though, so I'm looking forward to this one, too.

    Sandy - ME TOO. I'm a sucker for a good cover. The art department has me at their mercy.

    Beth - I'd heard mixed reviews on this book and when I saw it at a used book store for $3, I thought what the heck? So at least I didn't spend an arm and a leg on it.

    Dar - I'm with you on the asylum bit...I usually love books with these settings. I'm probably not giving the book the credit it deserves, admittedly. It certainly wasn't a bad book!

    Alyce - now you might be on to something here. It's just a question of picking the right horrible book for comparison. I've got a few suggestions, LOL.

    Anonymous Child - thanks for the kind's likely better than I'm giving it credit for. I think it was a question of timing for me. But you all should know by now to take my stuff with a giant grain of salt!

  9. I read such a variety of reviews of this - from yours to people who loved it. I have a copy myself, so someday I'll make up my own mind about it.

  10. I liked this book. I read it after if first came out but way before I started my book blog. I found the story fascinating and liked the writing style. I didn't care for the stepbrother thing either. I found that the author based the story on real stories of women sent away for similar reasons or just for being a "strong willed" daughter!

  11. The description sounded good ... too bad it didn't float your boat!

    And "Flowers In the Attic" -- wow! That took me back to my early teen years when it was all the rage. Probably caused my lifelong fear of eating powdered donuts! That book is so burned into my brain ... and I hate that!

  12. Well it certainly does sound confusing. What is it with the stepbrother thing lately? Charlaine Harris does it in one of her series and it's just SO icky! I don't care if they're related or not, it still bothers me a bit.

  13. Yay! A book to NOT add to my wish list. Thank God!

    I will confess that I read-- and liked-- Flowers in the Attic. (What did I know, I was a stupid teenager at the time). Later books by VC Andrews went downhill. Fast.
    I'd never read them now...

    And that Flowers in the Attic movie was a real stinker.

  14. Ok, I'm going to creep you out by telling you this but I'll do it anyway. See if you can keep up. My step-sister (her mother, my father) married her step-brother (her father, his mother) and they share a half-sister (her father and his mother had a child). I love my step-sister dearly and she is completely normal but she never knows how to introduce her step-mother/mother-in-law. I also have a cousin who married his step-sister. It's a crazy crazy world out there.

    (Am I the only one whose never read "Flowers in the Attic"?)

  15. Tara - that is the best way to do things....if unsure, judge for might love it!

    Red lady Bonnie - that's what appealed to me about this book originally. If I had lived 100 years ago, I'd probably have been locked up, too. ;)

    Jenners - LOL at the powdered donut thing....too funny!

    Ladytink - oh gosh, which Harris book is that!!!???

    Carey - doesn't the Flowers in the Attic thing bring back a bunch of weird memories?? Hey, at least we were reading back then, eh?

    Petunia - I love that story (had to re-read it three times to get it all straight, LOL). It is indeed a crazy world out there. But no, you're not the only one who missed FitA...probably before your time, you lucky dog!

  16. If only I had some money to throw!

    I have the same problem after I finish some really, really good books. It's like you're on this reading high, and then well, you crash.

    I don't think I'd pick this one up anyway and especially not after the V.C. Andrews reference. Now that's one disturbing book!

    Diary of an Eccentric

  17. I actually did kinda like this book but I never really figured out what happened in the end.

  18. Just finished reading it, and I liked it. I hadn't heard of it, but the lady in the bookstore recommended it and I liked the cover and the title.
    I didn't find it hard to follow the different parts, and it all sort of cleared up towards the end. The Alex - Iris relationship did not bother me at all, and Alex was my favourite male character of the story.
    I recommend this book!!!


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