Sunday, July 08, 2007
Iris Lockheart runs her own shop in Edinburgh. She has a string of
unfulfilled relationships to her name, her grandmother is in a world
of her own and her half brother constantly disapproves of the men
in her life. Then she gets a letter about Euphemia Lennox, a
relative she has never heard of who lives in a psychiatric unit. All
of a sudden Euphemia (or Esme as she prefers to be called) is
thrown into Iris' life and so begins a gradual untangling of threads
as to how Esme really ended up vanishing from polite society.
This is definitely one of those books you need to be in the right
mood to read. I think perhaps if I had been this book may have
scored 4 stars. As it was I initially found it a bit confusing. You keep
switching between the present, Esme's memories, Iris' memories
and Kitty's mind (these bits are particularly confusing as she
constantly switches to different time frames mid memory because
she's suffering Alzheimer's). Once you get past this and into the story
it's actually quite enjoyable. It shows how families coped with
post-colonialism, and how women were expected to behave and were
treated in 1930s polite society. It's dark in its way and as the story
progresses you gradually uncover more and more hidden secrets.
O'Farrell is also very good at throwing you off track. At first you
genuinely think Esme is not right in the head and then you realise
she's just different which wasn't acceptable at the time. There are
other instances of this but I won't spoil the storyline by telling you
In terms of writing style I'm not a huge fan of novels that flick
constantly between characters and at a rate of a page or two
between switches. It does eventually work and by the end of the
book you understand why its been written that way but initially it
is incredibly frustrating. I did admire the bits where Kitty is the one
reflecting because I felt it was very very well done. I haven't had to
deal with Alzheimer's myself but from what I know about it from
friends who have it is almost like the person has no control over
their chain of thoughts. They don't necessarily forget but their ability
to distinguish between reality, dreams and memories goes. It just
somehow felt a very real depiction of what someone with Alzheimer's
might be thinking.
As with 'The Kabul Beauty School' I finished the book feeling infinitely
glad that I live in the here and now and that even if I were living in
the 1930s I come from a working class family so wouldn't have had
the life Esme and Kitty did. I'm also glad that I have a much better
relationship with my own sister! Although I wasn't in the mood for it
this weekend it was still a good read and definitely worth trying. Just
have a bit of patience with it!
This review has been submitted by e-mail.
If you enjoyed this why not try 'The Behaviour of Moths' by Poppy Adams?
If you want to find out more about this book why not visit Amazon UK by visiting the following link
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox