Sunday, January 8, 2012

THE VANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX by Maggie O'Farrell ✰✰✰✰1/2


This book was so much better than I thought it would be.  The premise, a modern Scottish girl who finds herself responsible for an elderly relative entombed and forgotten in a hospital for the mentally ill, seemed rather predictable to me.  
Instead of the usual young girl learns about life from an elderly woman-in fact, I found myself wishing that there was more of that between the two main characters-this one threw in a number of surprises.  I hate to compare it to Ian McEwan’s Atonement, a book which I personally found weak, but this novel revolves around a very similar theme: a young person making mistaken and selfish choices only to find that the consequences for others are catastrophic.  Only this plot was much, much better and executed with far more suspense and deft unpredictability.
O’Farrell makes use of two separate narrators, one in third person and the other a wandering stream of consciousness voice in the first person of the elderly aunt.  Generally, I loathe stream of consciousness, but it was the perfect device for conveying the aunt’s Alzheimer's and bringing to the surface threads of foreshadowing and threads of resolution.
There was one plot line which I felt was filler and did not really tie in with the main story, but not so much that it felt distracting.  Part of my issue with that thread might simply have been that I felt the characters it was written around were very flat.  I loved the main characters, for the most part, and found them well developed and consistent. 
The best part of the book was the ending.  Even as the reader begins to piece things together throughout the course of the novel, I doubt the ending will be expected.  I would recommend this book of family secrets for most readers; since I did the audio of this one, I can also say that Anne Flosnik does an excellent job narrating, and I would definitely recommend it for those who like to listen to their books.

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