The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

 “You might not believe my story. You might read it as a fairytale, a fable straight out of my imagination.”

The Vanishing ActSo says twelve year-old  Minou. She lives on a  small, remote, nameless island Minou with her Papa, who is a philosopher and a fisherman. The island has only just two more residents. Priest and  Boxman. A holy man and a magician.

Why they are there, what happened in the past isn’t clear, isn’t clear. And there are other questions in the air.

What happened to  Minou’s Mama?

She set out for a walk in her very best shoes, and she didn’t come back. The grown-ups said that she must have had an accident, that she must be dead. But Minou knew better. She knew that Mama had set out to have a grand adventure, and that she would be back soon.

And where did the boy come from?

The body of a young boy washed up the shore, and his body had been brought up and laid out to wait for the supply boat to take him back to the mainland. Minou where he has come from, what he has seen. And she tells him stories,  sure that he has come to help her to put together all the memories and all the clues that will lead her to her Mama.

Minou is an engaging narrator and a charming child:  a rational seeker of truth, like her Papa, and an imaginative, creative artist, like her Mama. It is so easy to empathise with her, to understand her moment of loneliness, to warm to her relationship with Papa, to be touched by her unfailing hope that Mama will come back to her, to love her joy in the world around her.

She tells her story in beautiful, clear prose, full of ideas and images. It illuminates her stories, the remoteness and loneliness of the only home she has ever known, and the sadness that haunts the adults around her. Minou is, of course, too young to grasp all of the implications of what is happening around her but her words say more than she knows.

So much in this little book is irresistible.

“It is in the heart and not in the words – not even in the most beautiful ones – but in the heart, in the skeleton bird pushing against your chest, wanting to fly, that we know for certain who and what we love.  That is all we have, and all there is.”

But it’s not quite perfect.

The story is too slight and the characters are too simply drawn to catch all of the images and ideas that are thrown into the air. Some of the simplicity is, of course, the result of Minou’s youth, there were moments when I felt that the characters were only there to present those images and ideas.

And the story of Minou’s Mama didn’t quite work: it was predictable, and in a ‘she’s that sort of woman and so this will be her destiny’ kind of way.

It was still lovely: Minou, the pictures she painted, the ideas she explored.

Just not quite as lovely as I’d hoped.

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