Sweet, melancholy, charming, beautifully told, and pretty much plotless.
The Vanishing Act is a simple story about a young girl called Minou who lives on a remote island years after a major war, though you don't know where (other than it is extremely cold in winter therefore is likely to be far north or far south), or when/which war. It is ultimately about the search for truth which so often eludes us.
Minou lives on this island with her Papa, Priest, Boxman, and No-name the dog. Other than Minou the only other character who has a name is the founder of the island who died many years before. This seems to have the effect of isolating the island even more than it is geographically, it also speaks to the truth of us. We are not our names, we are the things we do and the way we live our lives (oops, in danger of getting a bit deep here). The only people to visit the island are an Uncle, and the boat men who deliver supplies once a week, and the dead boy who washes up on the beach of course.
A year before the book is set Minou's mother leaves the island, though it is not known if she walked off the island and drowned, or was saved. Minou clings to the idea that she was saved, and proving this takes up much of her focus. Minou is of course very innocent, and it's through her recollections that we learn about the other islanders, her parents relationship and probably the reason her mother vanished.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book though the lack of plot was a little frustrating to me. By the end of the book nothing is resolved, though we understand more about life for Minou and her little family.
I started the book thinking about how peaceful a life on an isolated island might be, and wouldn't that be nice. I have always liked the idea of getting away from people and the world, but by the end I had completely changed my mind. I suppose I have found some truths of my own. Maybe this is the kind of thing that Erin Morgenstern meant with her quote on the cover - that this is the kind of book that changes you.
What I liked most - beautiful writing, the mystery of Minou's mother.
What I liked least - I got tired of the references to Philosophical method and Descartes.