The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox Book Club Discussion Questions

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell is available as one of the Gold Coast Libraries’ Book Club kits.

**Please be aware that book discussion questions may contain spoilers**

Synopsis: Set in Edinburgh in the  1930s, Esme is one of two daughters in the Lennox family.  Esme and her older sister Kitty are supposed to be being seen at the right places, doing the right things. making a good social impact within the polite, conventional Edinburgh society, attending balls, acting appropriately, guarding their virtues and reputations, and preparing themselves for marriage. Esme however is causing concern to her family. She defies her family’s requests and all social mores of the day. Esme has often been thought of as odd.  Her strange behaviour associated with a traumatising childhood experience. However the final straw is when her parents find her dancing in front of a mirror wearing her mother’s clothing. A doctor is fetched. Some paperwork is signed. Sixteen year old Esme is admitted to Cauldstone mental institution where she disappears for 61 days, five months and four days. As Cauldstone is closing down, Iris Lockhart receives paperwork and a phone call regarding her Great-Aunt Esme. Prior to the phone call Iris had never heard of her relative Esme.  What had Esme done to be completely erased from the family tree? The only people who hold the clues to this mystery are Esme and her sister Kitty. Two institutionalised-sisters. one confined because she was believed to have “lost her mind” and the other confined because she is lost in the fog of Alzheimer’s disease.  This is a story of loyalty, lies, lunacy, secrecy, jealousy and betrayal.

Discussion Questions:

1. Identify some of the various ways in which the title, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, relates to the story. What does Esme’s description of her “vanishing act” on page 91 symbolize?

2. What do the early scenes set in India reveal about Esme and her family?

3. Do you think Esme was/is mentally unstable? Why was she held at Cauldstone for 61 years, 5 months and 4 days?

4. What exactly defines madness? What exactly defines sanity?

5. How are Iris and Esme similar?

6. If you were Iris and you received “that” phone call, what would you do?

7.  How will the revelation of Esme and Kitty’s secret change Iris’s life? Do you think it will alter her relationships with Luke and Alex?

8.  The story contains several twists. Which did you find most shocking?

9. What did you think of the writing style? Did the sentences trailing off and sentences being interrupted and disjointed enhance you reading experience or distract you from the story?

10. What did you think of the ending? Did you anticipate the novel’s conclusion?

Helpful links:

Review on Litlovers

Publishers website – Harcourt Books

Author’s website – Maggie O’Farrell