Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rereading The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

The Vanishing ActIt was snowing the morning I found the dead boy. The island with its two houses and one church was covered in a layer of snow.

Here is what I said in my original review of The Vanishing Act: "It was Erin Morgenstern's blurb (she's the author of The Night Circus, one of my favorite books) which got me interested in this book. This is what she says: "This book is a precious thing. I want to keep it in a painted box with a raven feather and sea-polished stones, taking it out when I feel the need to visit Minou on her island again. The best stories change you. I am not the same after The Vanishing Act as I was before."

I don't think I loved it that much, but I certainly did enjoy it, and it's a very enchanting book. It's the story of Minou, who lives on a tiny snow-covered island with her philosopher Papa. The other inhabitants of the island are Boxman the magician, No-Name, his dog, and Priest the priest. A year before the story begins, Minou's mother disappeared. Minou knows that she isn't dead, despite her shoe being found washed up. Then one day, Minou finds a dead boy washed up on the beach. Her father lays him in her mother's room. Can Minou's mother's disappearance be explained by him? Minou will not accept that her mother is dead and using Descartes, is determined to find out what happened.

I thought this was a very interesting one, with an interesting premise. I love stories like this; however I didn't love this one, though I really liked it. I thought Minou's parents were interesting: her father is a philosopher-type, and he's interested in proofing everything with logic and reason, whereas her mother is more interested in the imagination. Two very different people, and then you have Minou, who tends more to reasoning and logic, but also the imagination.

This book definitely feels like a fable, and I'm very glad that I got it from W.W. Norton. I didn't love the writing style, but it was sweet and simple. Not nearly as good as Erin Morgenstern's writing style though. Still, I would definitely recommend it. I've included both the US and UK covers, as well as the Australian (original) cover. I think I like the British one best (the one on the left)."

The first time I read the book I think I kind of rushed through it to get to the end, because I wanted to finish it quickly and read other things. And I didn't enjoy the book as much because of it. I still don't think it's an amazing book, but I did like it more reading it a second time. As with most characters who are around my age, I felt that the narration was a little simplistic, as if Minou wasn't really twelve. She seemed more like ten or so, and there's nothing wrong with that. She sees things happening around her very clearly, without understanding a lot of their implications. She just writes them down. But we, the reader, can presumably understand them a bit more than her, and that is what makes the book moving. There's so much tension on the island that Minou cannot sense but doesn't really understand. 

The Vanishing Act is a very under-appreciated novel; it was first published in Australia, and maybe Americans just aren't interested enough in this sort of thing. All I know is that on Amazon, the hardcover edition was $2.10 and is now $7.50, as opposed to the original price of $23.95. That's disgraceful. And it's not even a bargain book! It's just the original hardcover edition. You can take advantage of that low price though. The book can be bought here, and even though the paperback edition is out, the hardcover is way cheaper. 

Anyway, why am I talking about this mundane stuff? The Vanishing Act is set in a dreamy world between fantasy and reality; in other words, it is magic realism, one of my favorite genres as long as the book is not too surreal. And The Vanishing Act is in some ways, but not too much. 

This is a beautiful little tale, and I'm certainly glad I reread it. It's really worth reading, and it should have gotten a little more attention than it did on its release in the United States. Mette Jakobsen's imagination is prodigious, and the descriptions in the book are gorgeous, touching, and vivid. 

217 pages. 

Rating: ****

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