The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell

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I have heard so many people raving about this book that I’m afraid I have forgotten who first brought it to my attention, but I’m really pleased that I have discovered Maggie O’Farrell as I’m sure I’ll enjoy working my way through her back catalogue.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is set in Edinburgh and follows Iris, a young woman who discovers that she has a great-aunt living in a psychiatric unit. Iris was unaware of her existence and so decides to find out why her family have hidden Esme Lennox away for all these years.

I was initially surprised at how readable this book was. For some reason I’d assumed that this was a very literary book, requiring a lot of attention, but it was much lighter than I had imagined and I flew through it.

A draught of cold air snakes in, curling about her ankles. She lifts her head and looks around the shop. The blank, featureless heads of the hatstands stare down at her, a silk coat hung from the ceiling sways slightly in the breeze. She lifts the flap and the seal gives easily. She unfolds the single white sheet, glances down it. Her mind is still running on the beer, on how she’s going to clean it up, how she must learn not to kick cans in the street, but she catches the words case and meeting and the name Euphemia Lennox. At the bottom, an illegible signature.

Despite its modern setting it had a very Gothic feel to it, reminding me of books like The Thirteenth Tale and The Behaviour of Moths.

My only criticism is that I thought the ending was a bit predictable. I had heard about the amazing twist and so was quite sad to discover that I had worked it out quite early on.

Overall this was a light, entertaining read. Recommended.

Maggie O’Farrell has just released a new book: The Hand That First Held Mine

I’m looking forward to reading it in the near future.

Which Maggie O’Farrell book have you enjoyed the most?

Are her other books just as easy to read?

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  1. Steph says:

    Like you, I just discovered O’Farrell this year, totally by random chance as I’d never heard of her before an ARC of The Hand That First Held Mine wound up in our home. I also thought it would be quite literary, which it was, but it was also so intensely plot-driven and compelling that I was immediately enthralled. I loved it so very much and am really looking forward to reading her older work. I do think this is the next book of hers that I’d like to read. So glad to hear it does not disappoint!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I have a copy of The Hand that First Held Mine and it actually appeals to me more than Esme so I thought I’d save it for a rainy day. Let’s hope we both enjoy our second O’Farrell :-)

  2. Sandy says:

    I’ve had this one marked on my Barnes & Noble list for quite awhile now…I don’t think I’ve read a bad review. That is the first time I’ve seen it compared to The Thirteenth Tale, and that got me excited. I wanted to eat that story up with a spoon.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad review either – they range from very good to fantastic! I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one :-)

  3. I actually found Esme the most demanding of the three O’Farrells I have read. Something about the beginning of it confused me. But once past that, like you say, quite readable. I think I like The Distance Between us the most with The Hand that First Held Mine as a close second.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thomas, I’m surprised that you say this one is the hardest to read as I can’t imagine them getting much easier – I’m even more intrigued now. I look forward to trying her others when I next need some light relief!

  4. Oh I LOVED Esme Lennox! This is my favourite of hers. I also liked After You’d Gone but not quite as much. I’m really looking forward to the new book too – I keep eyeing it up when I’m in Waterstones.

    1. Jackie says:

      The Book Whisperer, I hope you’re able to get your hands on a copy of her new one soon and that you enjoy it as much as this one :-)

  5. Jo says:

    I loved this. I agree it was quite predictable, but I don’t think that really mattered. I was just mesmerised by the whole thing
    Until I’d read this, this was the only one of her books to appeal, but I did enjoy this so much that I may try another at some point.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I think the problem was that I had been told how amazing the ending was. If I’d gone in blind then I wouldn’t have been disappointed by the predictability. It was still an enjoyable read, but I just wanted to warn people not to expect a big twist.

      I hope you enjoy your next O’Farrell. :-)

  6. Did you say it reminded you of The Thirteenth Tale?? Oh, my, then YES! I’ll be picking this one up!! Hooray!

    1. Jackie says:

      Coffee and a Book Chick, They are different books, but I thought they had a similar atmosphere. I hope you enjoy it :-)

  7. I really must read Esme at some point as read so many good things. Your review is the first I’ve read where I’ve picked up that it is set in Edinburgh so that attracts me to it even more.

    Pleased you’ve found another writer to enjoy and follow, Jackie.

    1. Jackie says:

      Claire, I had no idea it was set in Edinburgh either. I think you’ll enjoy some of the local references :-)

  8. Jenny says:

    I liked Esme Lennox far more than I was expecting to. And then I was very fond of After You’d Gone when I read it this year. Those are the only two of O’Farrell’s books I’ve read so far, the others always being checked out at the library, but I’m looking forward to reading the others.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I haven’t heard much about After You’d Gone so it is good to know that you enjoyed that as I’m sure I’ll read them all at some point :-)

  9. I have this on my TBR Shelves along with at least one more written by her. I want to read it – I just don’t know when that’s going to happen. I do know that it’ll have to shout a little louder to be heard over all the others. Glad to see that you enjoyed it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thoughts of Joy, I had the same problem with this book not shouting very loudly, but it shouted for long enough that I eventually took it from the pile :-) I hope your copy makes it off the shelf soon :-)

  10. Amy says:

    This sounds wonderful! I’m glad you’ve finally read something that worked for you!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, Don’t worry – I’m managing to find quite a few books that I’ve loved :-)

  11. SOOOO glad you liked this! You’re right – interesting but not too heavy a book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Novel Insights, It is great to know that you’ve enjoyed this one already. Let’s hope her other books are just as enjoyable. :-)

  12. Jenners says:

    Sounds like a good one. And what a nice surprise to find the book more readable than you anticipated.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, It doesn’t often happen that way so it is a nice surprise :-)

  13. LizF says:

    Despite owning copies of all Maggie O’Farrell’s books apart from the very newest one, I have yet to read any of them (story of my life really!)
    However senior daughter came home for a visit absolutely raving about Esme Lennox, having borrowed a copy from her flatmate, and returned to London with two out of the other three, so I really must get around to reading it!
    I must admit that I thought that it might turn out to be a bit too literary for my comfort but having been reassured, I will put it near the top of the TBR pile!

    1. Jackie says:

      Liz, Sorry to hear that your daughter has run away with the two other books, but it is nice to know this has persuaded you to try this one. Hopefully she’ll read them quickly and return them to you – enjoy :-)


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