Monday, 11 June 2012

Book Review: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Another lent book but this time as part of the world book night event. I was told to read it quickly and pass it on as you need to input the book's PIN into the website to you can track it, hopefully, across the world. So far the book has been to three people, including me, and has only travelled about three miles. I think I will send it to my BEST friend in Southampton as that's a bit further afield!

This book was so easy to read I managed to finish it in three days. It has no chapters, it just flows from one character to another and the past to the present. The present day main character, Iris is told by a mental hospital that their charge, Esme Lennox, is her elderly great aunt and that as next of kin she must decide what to do with her as the hospital is closing. Iris has a messy life so isn't in a great position to deal with this bolt from the blue - she asks her senile grandmother (Esme's sister) about Esme but gets no information. Iris decides to help Esme and takes her in and as she does the reader hears Esme's story about her childhood and how she was dragged to the hospital by her father.

The story was riveting as it highlighted the way in which mental illness was treated after the first world war - a time when doctors were becoming more understanding in the light of shell shock etc It also portrays the general treatment of women as second class citizens who, if they didn't tow the line were seen as hysterical and too different for decent society. It is indicated that Esme suffers from bi-polar disease and is schizophrenic and is locked away for 60 years as her family become increasingly despairing over her refusal to be a normal young lady. It is shocking to think that most of Esme's behaviour is something us modern day females take for granted - she wants to be free, not marry, stay in education, play unladylike music on the piano, not do as her parents tell her, walk barefoot and laugh at things that are funny instead of keeping quiet...I wonder how many people were hospitalised, drugged up and given electric shock treatment because they didn't fit in. I'm glad I live in these times, I love to walk barefooted, I always laugh at inappropriate moments, if I could play the piano then I would probably play Metallica on it and ok so I'm married, but on my terms, not my parents or society's. The ending of the book is abrupt and you kind of get whats coming a few pages ahead. You want to know what happens next to Esme and Iris but I guess that's the beauty of a good book to make you decide what happens once you've put it down. Yeah for Maggie O'Farrell!

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