The Vanishing Act Synopsis
On a small snow-covered island — so tiny that it can’t be found on any map — lives twelve-year-old Minou, her philosopher Papa (a descendent of Descartes), Boxman the magician, and a clever dog called No-Name. A year earlier Minou’s mother left the house wearing her best shoes and carrying a large black umbrella. She never returned.
One morning Minou finds a dead boy washed up on the beach. Her father decides to lay him in the room that once belonged to her mother. Can her mother’s disappearance be explained by the boy? Will Boxman be able to help find her? Minou, unwilling to accept her mother’s death, attempts to find the truth through Descartes’ philosophy. Over the course of her investigation Minou will discover the truth about loss and love, a truth that The Vanishing Act conveys in a voice that is uniquely enchanting. (Amazon)
Mette Jakobsen’s debut novel The Vanishing Act could best be described as a literary meditation on isolation and loneliness, and how those two concepts are quite different. Discussions on philosophy are used to explore alternate viewpoints and highlight the tension between people’s needs and desires.
Papa said that to live on an island was to live in a closed fist.
‘Nothing suits a philosopher better,’ he said. ‘How can you philosophise if you constantly have to choose?’ On an island as small as ours there were choices to be made, but not that many. Most of the time could be spent thinking, which for Papa was the noblest of all pursuits.
The reader is presented with the mystery of a woman’s disappearance from the island at the outset, and the picture of what happened is gradually filled in for the reader piece by piece.
In The Vanishing Act Mette Jakobsen delivers a haunting story about life and all its mysteries.
The power of this tale comes from Jakobsen’s use of first person narration from the independent and curious twelve year old Minou. The world and the actions of those that inhabit it seen through the eyes of a child is a unique and disarming perspective.
… then maybe he was an awful person like Rousseau, who Mama told me, went out into the world to serve the Enlightenment, leaving behind his wife and five children.
‘What does Enlightenment mean?’ I asked Papa.
‘It means,’ said Papa, ‘that Rousseau wanted the best for everyone. He wanted a new world where people were happy and free.’
I imagined five hungry children standing on a cold floor, waiting for their father to come home and enlighten them as well.
Although the subject matter of death and loss results in stark and bleak passages, Jakobsen injects colour and optimism through Minou’s interactions with the eccentric island inhabitants and her loyal canine companion No-Name. While the prose is wonderful and the story a clever one, I did find the pacing frustrating at times and found myself wanting a little more from the ending.
The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen is a subtle story written in a way that will really make you think. Is the world black and white, or a rainbow?
BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5
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Author Information: Mette Jakobsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1964 but now lives in Newtown, Sydney. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and a BA in philosophy. In 2004 she graduated from NIDA’s Playwrights Studio and several of her plays have been broadcast on ABC national radio.
– The Vanishing Act was short-listed for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize