The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (O’Farrell)

This story was probably more difficult to follow because I listened to it. It jumped between different viewpoints and time periods throughout without warning, which is an interesting way to tell a story, but I think I would’ve preferred to read the actual paper version. It is the story of a family in the early 20th century and begins with the loss of (as is implied) yet another baby. Esme the younger daughter had been left home with the aya (? nurse) and both the baby and the aya die, leaving the girl all alone with their bodies for three days and she wouldn’t let them take the baby. Fast-forward about 10 years and it is her own baby she clutches as he’s taken from her by nurses at the asylum she has been placed in by her family. A free spirit, she was considered quite strange at that time and was often called “odd bod”. She would do such strange things as lounge in a chair reading a book during a social gathering, where she ought to be trying to find a husband! One night at such a gathering she was raped by a highly desirable young man of their acquaintance (one her sister had her eyes on). Following this incident her only response to any questions asked of her is a high-pitched scream. Her family took it as the last straw in her strange behavior and consulted a doctor who basically diagnosed her as schizophrenic and took her to an asylum where she stayed for the next 61 years. Turns out she has a baby as a result of the rape and her sister conveniently comes to visit right after….instead of visiting with her sister she took the baby as her own. Jealous and angry because her husband would not “give” her a baby (ie have sex with her) and because she could tell that it was the other man she desired’s baby, she justifies taking the baby for her own. She raises him and he has a child, her granddaughter Iris. Iris receives a call that the asylum is closing and she must decide what to do with her great aunt that she never even knew she had. And so she gets to know her real grandmother. Such a sad tale.

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