Throwback Thursday: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell


Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This weeks choice is taken from my 2010 review.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell


What I thought:

I completely fell in love with this book in the one sitting it took me to read it (because I just couldn’t put it down).

This is the story 2 young girls, Kitty and Esme, growing up in the 20’s and 30’s in first colonial India and then in Edinburgh when their parents move back home. They are sisters who share everything and love each other very much yet one is the dutiful, polite, home-maker type and the other is the slightly rebellious younger sister who wants to stay on at school rather than marry a nice boy. After a series of events (which include trying on her Mothers clothes of all things!) and a shocking incident that happens to her, Esme (the younger sister) is sent to a lunatic asylum and disowned by her own family and where she remains for the next 61 years.

In between this story told by Esme and also Kitty (whom now has Alzheimer’s) we also flit between the past and the present with Kitty’s Granddaughter, Iris, who also narrates her story. The way O’Farrell has woven the 3 women’s voices so intricately together to reveal only parts of the story at a time is just amazing and also serves to keep you turning those pages well into the night. The story is so beautifully told and the twists and surprises mean that you can’t possibly put it down even for a minute.


I don’t really know what I expected of this book, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to be so blown away by it.  I really do highly recommend this book and hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Update to original review:

Being a massive advocate and fund-raiser for mental health issues, this story is even more shocking to me now. The reasons that people were locked up in asylums in years gone by is horrifying. Thank god that things are changing for the better now (and still need to change radically). I could do (and might do) a whole post on its own about this at some point so watch this space…


2 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

  1. FictionFan says:

    In my youth (a long time ago!) I worked with one of these hospitals that had housed “insane” people for decades, and while it was awful that they’d been kept there for no reason for so long, it was nearly as bad when the government decided to throw them all out into “care in the community” – some of them had been institutionalised so long they simply couldn’t cope and didn’t want to be thrown out of a place they thought of as home. Things still need to improve, of course, but at least we’ve come a long way since then… Great throwback – must look out for this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Book Whisperer says:

      Yes do, it’s a really fantastic book! Thanks for sharing this, I’m fascinated and completely see how that would have been the worst thing for some people. It amazes me with some of the reasons people were locked up for too.

      Liked by 1 person

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