The Vanishers: Book summary and reviews of The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

The Vanishers

A Novel

by Heidi Julavits

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits X
The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2012
    304 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

From the acclaimed novelist and The Believer editor Heidi Julavits, a wildly imaginative and emotionally intense novel about mothers, daughters, and the psychic damage women can inflict on one another.
 
Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death?
    
Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother's suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, and Julia gains power, Madame Ackermann launches a desperate psychic attack that leaves Julia the victim of a crippling ailment.
    
Julia retreats to a faceless job in Manhattan. But others have noted Julia's emerging gifts, and soon she's recruited to track down an elusive missing person - a controversial artist who might have a connection to her mother. As Julia sifts through ghosts and astral clues, everything she thought she knew of her mother is called into question, and she discovers that her ability to know the minds of others - including her own - goes far deeper than she ever imagined.
    
As powerful and gripping as all of Julavits's acclaimed novels, The Vanishers is a stunning meditation on grief, female rivalry, and the furious power of a daughter's love.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"In a convoluted plot stoked by diabolical humor and wry suspense, Julavits nearly squanders the novel's potential for deeper inquires. Instead, monstrous mother-figures and life-or-death power struggles evoke poignant questions about blame and forgiveness, inheritance and independence, memory and grief, and the obdurate mysteries of trust and love." - Booklist

"Packed with a revolving cast of faces, the story frequently switches into the past, especially at the outset, which can create confusion. But the overall effect is magical, and Julavits's often acerbic prose generates laughs despite the sad reality of Julia's life." - Publishers Weekly

"This novel is reminiscent of Arthur Phillips's The Egyptologist: clever, humorous, with supernatural elements. While one can easily get confused about what is real and what is imagined, readers who surrender to the narrative may be rewarded with rich insights about losing a parent." - Library Journal

"A searing final section very nearly redeems all this clutter... Intelligent and ambitious, but also heavy-handed and alienating." - Kirkus Reviews

"It is always an adventure and a delight to read Heidi Julavits. Her intellectual brio and descriptive inventiveness are on full display in The Vanishers, but she's gone further this time by inventing a new genre: the astral detective thriller." - Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad

"The Vanishers is one of the best novels I've ever read, delivering all the immediate pleasures of mystery, horror, and satire while exploring grief in language that is as shocking for its originality as its precision. Julavits takes readers on a wild ride that hops continents and decades, but the real setting of The Vanishers is the gray territory between sickness and health, sanity and delusion, love and hatred, life and death." - Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

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Author Information

Heidi Julavits Author Biography

Heidi Julavits is the author of four critically acclaimed novels (The Vanishers, The Uses of Enchantment, The Effect of Living Backwards, and The Mineral Palace) and co-editor, with Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton, of the New York Times bestseller Women in Clothes. Her fiction has appeared in Harper's Magazine, McSweeney's, and The Best American Short Stories, among other places. She's a founding editor of The Believer magazine and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Manhattan, where she teaches at Columbia University. She was born and raised in Portland, Maine.

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