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The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox    by Maggie O'Farrell order for
Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
by Maggie O'Farrell
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2007 (2007)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Iris Lockhart is an owner of a vintage clothing shop in England. Her life is solitary; she lives alone and has a married boyfriend. She is closer to her stepbrother Alex than even his own wife, an intimacy that is explored later in the novel. Her grandmother, Kitty, was stoic and cold, and her father is deceased.

Out of the blue, Iris receives a phone call to come and claim her Aunt Esme from Cauldstone, a psychiatric hospital, which plans to close its doors. Iris has never heard of Aunt Esme, allegedly her grandmother Kitty's sister. Aunt Esme had been locked away for six decades. Iris reluctantly comes to claim her, planning to put her in another facility. While they are waiting to place Esme elsewhere, Iris hesitatingly takes the elderly woman home with her and gets to know her.

Employing a dreamlike writing style with alternating voices that weave back and forth through time, the author gradually allows the truth to unravel in bits and pieces. This is really Esme's story about her family's betrayal. Iris is shocked to find out the true identity of Aunt Esme, which challenges what she thought she knew about herself and her family.

I liked the writer's slow build-up of suspense, and of dropping tantalizing hints about Aunt Esme's past. The book's tone is melancholy, but it is multilayered and a real page-turner.

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