On a small and snowy island, 12-year-old Minou lives with her father, a philosopher. Her only neighbors are a priest who is afraid of the dark and a magician who lives in a barn with a dog called No Name. Her mother disappeared a year ago, and while the other islanders know her to be dead, Minou does not believe it to be so. She spends her time contemplating God with the priest, magic with the magician, and Truth with her father, all the while awaiting her mother’s return. But when a dead boy washes up on the island’s shore and his body is brought to Minou’s house, memories come flooding back and she must finally come to terms with the finality of her mother’s absence.
THE VANISHING ACT by debut novelist Mette Jakobsen is the enigmatic, strange and dreamy story of Minou.
"[T]here is a charm to THE VANISHING ACT, and many readers are sure to be allured by the fantastical setting and the elegant prose..."
Her mother, a beautiful and fanciful artist, came to the island damaged from the war she refused to talk about. Her father was already living on the island also having survived the war, hiding in a dark cellar for so long he was unable to walk or talk when he could finally emerge to safety. The unnamed war, perhaps World War II (but possibly not), looms large as the adults on the island have all suffered because of it, yet Minou knows almost nothing concrete about it. She only knows that after performing in a magic show with Boxman the magician, and after something secret happened between her mother and Boxman, her mother disappeared.
The dead boy is a mystery as well. And while Minou’s father waits for the boatmen to arrive and take him away, he sits up for three nights with the corpse hoping to understand important philosophic truths. Minou, too, keeps the dead boy company, but for her, the corpse becomes a way to accept the loss of her mother and release a year’s worth of sorrow.
Besides the arrival of the dead boy, not much else happens in this fable-like story of loneliness, isolation and imagination. Most of the action and conversation happened a year or more in the past, and all of the characters are traumatized in a variety of ways. The tensions between reason and imagination and between religion and magic are interesting, but Jakobsen could’ve done much more to flesh out the characters and more fully explore the themes she presents. While the book is full of wonder and the writing is lovely, the story feels unfinished; no mysteries are actually solved, no actions really explained.
Still, there is a charm to THE VANISHING ACT, and many readers are sure to be allured by the fantastical setting and the elegant prose, especially if they’re willing to suspend disbelief and focus on the emotions Jakobsen illuminates in her odd but likable characters.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 28, 2012
The Vanishing Act