4th Sep 2012
The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen
The Vanishing Act is the début novel by Mette Jakobsen, a playwright born in Denmark and living in Sydney. Published in the UK only last month by Vintage, it’s been out elsewhere for sometime now, being shortlisted for the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize and being selected as the subject for this month’s Waterstones Book Club.
A story of an isolated snow-covered island that can’t be found any map, The Vanishing Act has received accolades and critical acclaim from all sorts of sources. But does it live up to the hype?
Narrated by Minou, a young girl living on the lonely island with her frustrated philosopher and fisherman father, whose endless search for the truth makes him introverted and melancholy.
A year ago, Minou’s mother, a bohemian and artistic woman revealed in retrospect to have many frustrated desires of her own, walked out into the rain and never returned.
Although a shoe was washed up on the shore, no body had ever been found, leaving Minou, her father and the island’s other occupants (a priest who makes origami cranes and bakes pretzels in an industrial oven, a magician named Boxman and a dog with no name) in a sad state of stasis, unable to grieve or heal.
Then Minou and her father find the frozen corpse of an unknown boy on the beach, taking it upon themselves to safeguard his body until it can be retrieved by the delivery boat that brings them their consignments from the outside world.
But for the three days he is with them, Minou and her father find their visitor having an unexpected impact. Minou chronicles these events in her journal, determined to share the story with her mother when she returns.
Although initially underwhelmed by The Vanishing Act, the language and imagery are beautiful, and the island its set on is strange and intriguing in its icy innocence and isolation, compelling me to keep reading.
At times overly sentimental and twee, at others too detached from its cast of damaged and eccentric child-like characters, The Vanishing Act is nevertheless moving and memorable.
A frozen fairytale which melds magic and whimsy with grief, secrets and the quest for closure, while The Vanishing Act may seem on occasion like style over substance, its gorgeous, cinematic descriptions, grand themes and quirky characters make it an enjoyable read for a cold winter’s night.
Recommended for: Readers who prefer the bizarre and the beautiful to action, plot and suspense.
Other recommended reading: Love strange and surreal tales of isolation and longing amongst the ice? Then investigate Anna Kavan’s hallucinatory, post-apocalyptic novella, Ice.
For more magic, mystery, rich imagery and eccentric characters, read The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (she gave The Vanishing Act a rave review, quoted on the cover). Or for an even more fragmented and frozen fairytale, try Light Boxes by Shane Jones.