I picked up this book in the English language section of the bookstore in the Athens airport back in November on my whirlwind tour through Eastern Europe. I'm a sucker for airport bookstores- I always stock up on the off chance that I'm stranded for some long period of time and run out of things to read. I never do run out of English books because I stock up before I leave, but that never seems to stop me from shelling out a ridiculous number of Euros to be sure...
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is the haunting tale of a stolen life. Locked up decades ago for such outlandish behavior as dancing, Esme Lennox is finally released when the asylum in which she has been living is shut down. Esme is thrust into the care of her grand-niece Iris, a modern young women whose struggle to overcome her "unnatural" love for her step-brother gives her more in common with Esme than either could imagine. As Iris tries to unravel the mystery of Esme's existence, she learns more (though ultimately not enough) about her hidden family history, information she never obtained from her Alzheimers-suffering grandmother Kitty. The shocking ending packs a powerful punch, and leaves an indelible mark on the reader.
This remarkable novel tells the sad tale of the fate that awaited women who didn't fit society's mold not all that many years ago. Marked, and then punished, by events beyond her control, Esme was locked up at 16 and lived in a virtual prison for her entire life. Iris is also living a life constrained by society's expectations, denying her love of her stepbrother yet unable to form a strong connection with anyone else. The parallel stories highlight the similarities between these two women, but offer hope that Iris will be able to break free in a way Esme never could.
From beginning to end this book made me both sad and angry, and maintaining that level of intense negative feeling was draining to say the least. Though the ending was like a punch in the gut, I applaud the author's ability to stay true to the tone of the novel (though I might have wished for a happier ending). I also wouldn't have minded another chapter to fill in at the end, but suspect that would have diluted the power of the narrative. I highly recommend reading this book, but not if you're already having a bad day!