A boy’s frozen body is found on a snow covered island in an unnamed sea. Thus begins Mette Jakobsen’s novel, The Vanishing Act, an engrossing story of loss and love propelled by the quest for truths.
The island is so small it cannot be found on any maps. Yet, it is not unknown since supply ships frequent the island bringing much needed deliveries and word from the outside world to the island’s scant population. There is Minou, a curious twelve year old girl who reads philosophy, sleeps in a lighthouse tower, and knits scarves. She lives with her Papa, a philosopher. There is also Boxman, a former magician and circus performer now living in a shack near the church, and Boxman’s dog, No Name. Then there is Priest, the keeper of the island church who rings the bell through stormy nights as if ringing for the salvation of any passing souls. All exist on the island in sought out solitude from the rest of the world.
At the beginning of the story, Minou finds the body of a dead boy washed up on the beach. The discovery of the boy creates a ripple through the inhabitants of the island. For Papa, a proclaimed descendant of Rene Descartes, the boy is his catalyst to seeking the truth in all things. Minou is also propelled to seek truth, but her investigation is localized to the island and the truth behind her Mama’s disappearance exactly one year to the day of the boy’s discovery. Minou remains convinced that her Mama is still alive despite Papa, Boxman, and Priest stating otherwise. The others assert Mama is dead because one of her shoes was found washed ashore a month after her disappearance. Minou is determined that a shoe alone was not proof.
The Vanishing Act is a delight of storytelling, philosophy, myth, and magic. The novel is well crafted and elegantly written. In Minou, Jakobsen created a wonderfully likeable narrator. Minou is fresh, engaging, and smart. Through Minou’s search, the history of the island and its inhabitants are slowly but not fully revealed. In all revelations, there remains some hidden mystery. This was a novel that I wanted to get through quickly because I wanted to know what Minou discovered in her quest for truth. Yet I read The Vanishing Act slowly so I could savor the language and enchantment of Jakobsen’s charming novel.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by W.W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.