Now that I’ve finally discovered Maggie O’Farrell, I’ve been scouring the bookshops for more of her stuff, and ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’ was my latest purchase.
It didn’t disappoint.
Whilst the story (the piecing together of why Iris Lockhart’s previously unknown great aunt has been locked away in a psychiatric unit for 60 years) got me curious, Maggie O’Farrell’s style has me hooked –
Because, there’s something in the vivid way that she uses language that turns me into a kind of human sponge, absorbing the emotions and experiences of the characters so that, when I lay the book down, it takes a minute for the room to re-shape as my room and a moment for me to catch my breath –
And, in the shifting landscape of past-present-past-present-present-past and the turns and twists of the narrative, there’s an element of disorientation that renders me completely under her control, because the anchors I’d normally rely on aren’t always there –
I might be confused if it weren’t a perfect encapsulation of the human experience and a constant reminder that the past and the present are inextricably linked; that the former shapes the latter– and we understand the present through looking back at the past.
It might all get a little intense, if it wasn’t for the gripping mystery that keeps me turning the pages and the sudden sharp moments of insight that make me stop –
And think –
Like: “We are all, Esme decides, just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in the world as anagrams of out antecedents.” (p.134)
And: “She checks herself quickly. Can she think about this? And she decides yes.”(p.146)
Exactly how I feel when I’m trying to keep myself safe and making sure that my feelings are where they should be.
The other thing about ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’, of course, is that I can relate to the story. That the concepts of ‘madness’ and institutionalisation and lost lives have a certain resonance which would be horrifically painful –
if it wasn’t explored and represented so intelligently, and I hadn’t fallen until Maggie O’Farrell’s spell.
Tags: reading the world