Published by: W. W. Norton & Company
Published on: September 17, 2012
Page Count: 224
My Reading Format: Review copy sent to me for consideration by the publisher.
Available Formats: Hardcover and eBook
Minou is a young child being raised on a nearly deserted island. She lives with her father, a philosopher yearning to find the smallest truth. Told entirely from her perspective, she names everything on the island according to its classification or occupation. The turtle is Turtle. The peacock is Peacock. The priest is Priest and the man who crafts boxes for circus magicians is Boxman. Minou’s mother was very much the opposite of her father. She was an artist who encouraged her daughter to rely on her imagination, not the theory of Descartes and other philosophers. Her mother went missing under mysterious circumstances almost a year ago. The adults on the island believe her to be dead, but Minou, following in her philosopher father’s footsteps, is adding up all of the facts that point to her mother being very much alive. When she and her father find a young man dead off the coast of their island, Minou is forced to face the facts about the greater world, the island, and her mother.
What The Vanishing Act did the best was highlight the difficulties children have with reconciling the imaginary with the logical. With one parent fully espousing a life of truth while the other is equally passionate about the imagination, Minou cannot always find a middle ground. Choosing one worldview over the other amounted to choosing one parent over the other. Ultimately, she learns that her life isn’t complete without using both sides of her mind, no matter how hard she uses philosophy to prove that truth otherwise.
When I picked up The Vanishing Act, I was just beginning a time of the reading blahs. As such, I cannot completely separate my feelings about Mette Jakobsen’s book from myself as a reader in time. Keeping this in mind, I had issues with The Vanishing Act. The story was not told linearly and this caused me difficulty. It took time for me to get my bearings with the way Minou communicated her story. The novel also did not hold for me the magic I had anticipated when I started reading. I was unable to go on Minou’s intellectual quest with her because I had already figured out the smallest truth about it shortly after I began reading. As such, I found her story and the reality of the life she was leading with on the island very sad. She had not one reliable adult with whom she could confide her thoughts and fears, so she had to resort to stories she made up about the dead boy in her mother’s room.
While I didn’t like The Vanishing Act as much as I had hoped, it was an excellent example of how a young child processes the world around her. What may seem logical and real to a child might never occur to an adult. Reading this book as a parent will make you ponder what is going through your children’s minds, hoping that it is magical and full of much adventure.