The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

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The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A charming little fable that doesn’t make extracting the meaning difficult and works just as well as a story. The decision as to which works the best is left to you.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-0099572473

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Minou lives on a sparsely occupied, temperate island. In fact the only occupants apart from Minou and her Papa are Priest (the Priest), Boxman (a maker of magical boxes) and a dog called No Name. Minou’s mother used to live there too. She arrived on a boat with a bowl containing a peacock (a real live one called… yes… Peacock). But then one day Mama disappeared completely apart from one shoe. Minou misses her and the way that she encouraged Minou’s imagination, completely at odds with her father’s logical philosophical outlook. Papa doesn’t believe that Mama will return and so has symbolically buried the shoe but Minou thinks differently: Mama will come back.

This is one of those novels rippled with tension (as in conflict), this time between philosophy and imagination and the argument as to whether they may be mutually exclusive forces. This becomes more interesting when you consider debut author Mette Jakobsen’s credentials. Papa believes that the truth that he searches for tirelessly is to be found in logical philosophical argument whereas Mama (shown to us in flashback due to the event of the title) disdainfully sides with imagination as being the most important aid to living. Minou is a product of both paths, walking the centre line as she sides with her father, but writing stories when he’s not around, suggesting that perhaps there’s something of the author in her as Ms Jakobsen has degrees in both philosophy and creative writing.

As one would expect from a philosophical pedigree there are gems of layered meaning waiting to be extracted from the text, be they in description or behaviour (for instance a Priest, a follower of the Light, who’s afraid of the dark). The thing is that they’re lying on the surface glinting rather than needing to be fossicked with thought. This is particularly evident in Mette’s choice of words when she describes Boxman’s profession (no spoilers!), providing a moment of reader realisation. This means that, due to how obvious these revelations are, spotting a literary treasure hunt clue becomes a game that lifts the mood as well as the consciousness. This only becomes a problem if you prefer to seek and find the hidden depths without so much assistance, or maybe there are deeper meanings still to be mined but they need a second reading to be discerned?

However, if fewer signposts would suit you better, there’s still the story to become immersed in, narrated by little Minou herself. As with novels like Jess Richard’s Snake Ropes and John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Minou’s perceptions and interpretation are understandably childlike and limited by her age. It's then down to our ability, as adults, to see it through the lens of experience, working in tandem with the author, bringing it to life. Indeed, the joy of The Vanishing Act is that it works just as well as a one-dimensional story as it does a thought provoking fable as the beautifully written, haunting set pieces testify, like Minou and her father poignantly talking to the tragic occupant of the 'Blue Room' or Minou's nostalgic memories as she awaits Mama's return.

All in all, in its most simple form, this is a cute story that will only take a few hours to read, but longer than that to forget… if you want to forget at all.

I would like to thank Vintage for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book for review.

If you've enjoyed this and would like to read another beautifully simple story with hidden depths, then we recommend The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

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Buy The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen at


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