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August 29, 2008

Books You've Read in a Day

Posted by carol
Have you ever read a book in a single day? Read on to find out what book captured the attention of contributor Jamie Layton, the manager of an Outer Banks bookstore, and inspired her to finish it in one sitting...

I'm a fast reader, I'll be the first to admit it. The lead article of the monthly e-newsletter I write for the bookstore (subscribe at is a compilation of reading recommendations based on customer reports, critics reviews and, primarily, my own reading. Some months even I'm amazed at the number of books I've gotten read. That said, though, it is still a rare thing for me to start and finish a book in one day, but that's just what I did yesterday.

To be fair, my family from Pennsylvania has been here for a few weeks so, after working a morning coffee shift at the store (every single one of our college kids is gone), I grabbed this month's Duck's Cottage reading group selection off the shelf and headed straight to a beach chair in Kitty Hawk. Our reading group is getting ready to discuss The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell; it isn't a thick book (288 pages), which is why I waited until I only had a week before the meeting to pick it up. That said, I still never expected to finish it before I went to bed that night.

Maggie O'Farrell's contemporary novel, set almost exclusively in Edinburgh, focuses on Iris, a young woman who runs a vintage clothing store and lives in a converted attic. She has little memory of her father, who died when she was young; primarily telephone contact with her mother, who lives in Australia; an odd relationship with a man she calls her "step-brother" though I'm not sure their parents ever married; and a new, married lover. A letter arrives followed by phone call after phone call from the Cauldstone, a mental hospital just on the other side of town. Apparently, they need some assistance with one Euphemia Lennox. Iris, having never heard of this person, is finally convinced to pay Cauldstone a visit where she learns that Euphemia is the paternal great-aunt she never knew about. Cauldstone is closing and attempting to relocate all of their patients, including her aunt, who has been a resident for over sixty years.

O'Farrell does a wonderful job interweaving the stories of Euphemia/Esme, her sister Kitty, Iris' grandmother, now an Alzheimer's patient with little recollection of the past thirty years; and Iris. For a good part of their childhood, Esme and Kitty lived in colonial India raised more by their amahs than by their cold, disconnected parents. Several plot twists will be predicted by more astute readers but are satisfying nonetheless. I wish I could say more about this book, but it is such a slim read and so finely crafted I really can't without ruining it. Suffice it to say, it is definitely worth consideration for your book group or just for a pleasurable day of reading on your own!

Besides the compelling story, O'Farrell has used an interesting trick that surprisingly works in a book with over 200 pages. No chapters, not one. Interspersed throughout the novel at appropriate divisions are center spaced asterisks, dividing one person's story from another's, but no real breaks. Which perhaps is why I never took a real break (well, except for a shower and dinner) and finished the book in eight hours. It was a perfect late-summer book for our group and is going to be an interesting discussion as it brings up some moral personal questions rather like The Memory Keeper's Daughter. And, of course, it now has a special spot on the list titled "Books I Read in a Day."

What titles have YOU read in a day or one sitting? Inquiring minds want to know --- please comment!

---Jamie Layton