June 19, 2012

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O'Farrell (Audio Review)

Esme Lennox has been locked up in a mental hospital for the past 61 years. Her great-niece, Iris, who has no idea of Esme’s existence, receives a call one day that Esme is being released and arrangements need to be made to pick her up. Even though Iris never even knew Esme existed before she received this call, something urges her to go to Cauldstone Hospital and consider taking Esme home with her until further arrangements can be made.  Iris’s parents are both gone, and her aunt Kitty - Esme’s sister - is suffering from Alzheimer’s.  While Esme is deemed harmless, what sorts of secrets does she harbour that could possibly turn Iris’s world upside down?  What unfolds in The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is the story of Esme’s and Kitty’s childhood and the harrowing events leading up to Esme’s admission to Cauldstone.

This was my very first audio book ever. I’ve listened to comedians in the car many times, but never an actual book.  I had an epiphany back in January, that I should start listening to audio books on the 3-hour round trip drives I frequently take to visit my sister-in-law and nephews.   What a great idea – another way to get through more books in a year! I went into Chapters one day specifically on the hunt for a *cheap* audio book (sheesh – audio books are EXPENSIVE!) and came across a copy of The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. Which was kind of “a sign” as this very book had just been recommended to me on Twitter, followed with the information that it’s hard to find a copy of it nowadays. So, naturally, I had to buy it. But the best part? It cost me less than five bucks! 

So I excitedly left the next morning on my “road trip”, eager to start listening to it. Here’s what I learnt right away. Listening to an audio book is hard. My mind wandered constantly and every few minutes I would zone back in and think, “whoa whoa whoa, what is going on – rewind!” I blame a lot of this on the fact that I found the narrator’s voice very annoying (she kind of reminded me of Daphne from Frasier – not that Daphne is annoying, but just so you have a picture of what the voice sounded like).  Secondly, after a bit of research on goodreads, I figured out that this book in the written form reads quite choppily and a lot of the sentences “just end” as a lot of it is the character’s thoughts. I did not feel this translated well onto audio. I had a difficult time realizing when the narrator had switched characters. Having different narrators for each character might have been helpful. 

My biggest issue with the story-line though was I didn’t understand why Esme had been kept in the mental hospital her ENTIRE life. If she was deemed sane enough to be allowed to live with a complete stranger when the hospital was closing, why hadn’t she been discharged earlier? Was she ever given the chance or an opportunity to leave the hospital as an adult and live her own life? It just made me so frustrated and downright mad that Esme had spent her whole life locked up for pretty much no reason at all! I know things were different “back in the day”, but still. And how could her own parent’s just leave her there forever?!  I started this audio book in January and this still bothers me when I think about the book. I just wanted more answers or at least some discussion about this.

I’m disappointed that my first audio book experience was a flop and I’m also disappointed that I didn’t like this story. I truly wanted to like it. I honestly feel like I owe this book a second chance and vow to re-read it if I ever come across a hard-copy of it. If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know what you thought of it and why. And, if you have any good    audio book recommendations, don’t hold out on me!

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