In January 2016, I attended a 10-week creative writing course run by the University of Oxford. During the course, Maggie O’Farrell’s novel, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, was used as a reference of a brilliant example of narrative point of view and placing yourself in scenes. The book was recommended so much, that I was inspired to buy it for my mum as a Christmas present. It got passed around various family members until I had the chance to read it for myself.
You know from the outset that Esme has been locked up for sixty years and written out of her family’s history. I couldn’t imagine how I would get sucked in when I knew what the outcome would be for young Esme. I discovered there is so much more to this book, and was gripped, reading it in one rainy day.
It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what I like so much about this book. It weaves so many threads that draw together to produce a masterpiece. The various family structures that we see are messy and tense, suffocating from rigid social etiquette, boundaries and taboo. There are intertwining strands of childhood memories with present day consequences, that move around seamlessly without ever being hard to follow. Alongside this are numerous blanks and gaps in knowledge that gradually fill in over time. They ultimately complete a sad picture of a young life that is misunderstood and deeply punished.
This book works so hard right to the very last page. It glides along because it has such brilliant structural integrity to all of its slow reveals.