The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, by Maggie O’Farrell, is a beautifully written and haunting tale rooted in hard to fathom English historical fact. That is, that up until about 1952, a man could have his wife or daughter institutionalized in a psychiatric unit as long a general practice physician—who did not even have to examine the woman—signed off on the order. Thousands of women, it turns out, were thus put away for the slightest of aberrations. Taking long walks, not wanting to get married or growing hair too long. Horribly, long incarcerations often meant that questionable or trumped up diagnoses became self-fulfilling prophecies. O’Farrell’s plot is a deftly woven page-turner that takes us back and forth through three generations. Things in the near present really come to bear when Iris, the unknowing granddaughter of the eponymous Esme, gets an out of the blue phone call notifying her that the institution where she has been held for the last sixty years is closing. This is the first that Iris has ever heard of Esme. As the layers of family history peel away, we are reminded that secrets and darkness can lurk in ways never imagined.