The modern story in The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox centers on Iris Lockhart, an independent woman running a dress shop in Edinburgh, Scotland. As we learn more about Iris and her love life, we’re introduced to the title character. Iris is shocked to learn that she has been named caretaker of a previously unknown relative named Esme Lennox, who is being discharged after over six decades in an asylum. As Iris begins to unlock her family’s myriad of secrets, we’re taken back into the past to be properly introduced to the intriguing Esme and learn the appalling truth behind her banishment.
Not only does Maggie O’Farrell have a talent for creating realistic characters and suspenseful drama wrapped in eloquent prose, but I love how she trusts the intelligence of her readers to distinguish between the various plots. Instead of strictly dividing different characters and timelines into chapters as other authors do, Maggie seamlessly alternates between them within each chapter – sometimes on the same page. So instead of having a drastic shift between the present and the past, the novel flows from one to the other. This encourages the reader to stay engaged with all of the characters, rather than being drawn to one in particular and rushing impatiently through the chapters that omit them.
As in O’Farrell’s debut novel, After You’d Gone, The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox ebbs and flows with dramatic tension until the tragic final act. O’Farrell’s novels are often full of sadness, but they are so superbly crafted that even the most melancholy moments are an exhilarating read.