"The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox" (2006) by Maggie O'Farrell is the perfect example of a terrific book that would likely have escaped my attention if not for my reading posse. Who in your life do you depend on for reliable recommendations?
O'Farrell's fourth novel is as easy to describe as it is hard to put down. Approaching middle age and never married, Iris Lockhart is shocked to discover her Alzheimer's-ridden grandmother has a sister Iris never knew existed. As Iris learns more about the circumstances surrounding her Great Aunt Esme's sixty-one year confinement in a mental hospital located just blocks from her apartment, her commitment-phobic life begins to feel a little hollow. Onto these bare bones - with just these three women in lead roles - O' Farrell fleshes out a rich and complex tale of treachery and survival with an ending as surprising as it is satisfying. I see Judy Dench as Esme, Blythe Danner (with more make-up than Dench) as her sister Kitty, and Maggie Gyllenhal as Iris.
Of late, the novels selected by my book clubs have not been as reliably enjoyable or as well crafted as "The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox" and several others I've featured here recently. If this trend continues, some book club casualties may be unavoidable.