The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a novel by Maggie O'Farrell that was first published in her native Britain in 2006. It is a courageous novel that deals with the complex and sometimes unspoken subject of madness, specifically in women, and the way in which the British legal system facilitated their being locked away in mental institutions without the ability to appeal the decision or to defend their right to remain at liberty.
The eponymous main character of the book, Esme Lennox, is released from hospital after being locked away for more than sixty one years, and the book shows the devastating effect this has on her family, who had no idea that she existed at all. In a time that found great shame in mental illness, Esme, like all of the other invisible women locked away in this fashion, was written out of the book of their family and simply ceased to exist. With Esme comes a lifetime of secrets and of course the family is never the same.
This is a thought-provoking and haunting gothic story that deals with the taboo of women's lack of rights and mental illness, and also the issue of how to rewrite the family histories of the women who were released into the care of relatives who were essentially strangers.
Maggie O'Farrell was born in Northern Ireland in 1972 and grew up in Wales and Scotland. She is currently the literary editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper after a career that included journalism, teaching and bicycle couriering. This is her third novel and was received with universal acclaim.