The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O’Farrell, UK, 2006

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O’Farrell, UK, 2006

A book about the ease with which a woman could be committed to a psychiatric hospital in the early part of the twentieth century. If a father or husband was displeased with a daughter or a wife (for whatever reason), the female in question could find herself locked away for ever without any possibility of justice or reprieve.

Two sisters, after having spent their childhood in India with their parents, return to Scotland. The older sister, Kitty, is happy to comply with the rules and regulations set down by early twentieth-century upper-class society. The younger sister, Esme, is more of a free spirit who wants to live her life the way she wants to live it. She is consequently disliked and misunderstood by her parents and gradually becomes what ‘normal’ people would term ‘odd’.

Esme’s parents, grandmother and even Kitty are continually shocked by Esme’s behaviour until, after a dance when something unspeakable happens, everything comes to a climax, and Esme vanishes – for more than sixty years.

When Iris Lockhart receives a letter from a psychiatric hospital, regarding a relative – a great-aunt – of whom she knows absolute nothing, the parts begin to unravel and slowly reconnect, changing the lives of everyone involved.

Beautifully written this desperately sad story about empty values, jealousy and betrayal touches, without a doubt, on the stories of many women from that particular period. O’Farrell manages the constant switches between past and present, and between the three main characters – Esme, Kitty and Iris – without difficulty, and leaves the reader only wanting more.

The image of Maggie O’Farrell is from
The image of women in an asylum is from Bustle

2 Replies to “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, Maggie O’Farrell, UK, 2006”

    1. Thank you, Alison. I had not heard of Maggie O’Farrell before, but I am now looking forward to reading more by her.

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