A young girl mourns the death of her mother in Mette Jacobsen’s The Vanishing Act. With strange analogies and constant referencing to Descartes and other philosophers, Jakobsen explores the loneliness of the child left behind.
Minou is missing her mother, who disappeared one night wearing her best shoes and carrying an umbrella. When Minou finds a dead boy’s body washed up on shore of the isolated island; she and her father try to keep the corpse frozen for three days until the supply boat comes to take him away. During the three days, both Minou and her father keep a vigil with the boy in the mother’s room, with Minou creating a story around the boy, the sea, and her lost mother. As Minou’s father, supposedly a descendant of Descartes, seeks some philosophical truth that eludes him, Minou tries to balance the rational (Descartes) conclusion that her mother’s disappearance from the island means she is probably dead, with the possibility and hope that she might have gone on an adventure to China, soon to return.
As Minou recalls events in constant flashbacks to her mother’s idiosyncracies in baking, her penchant for art, and her creative imaginings and yearnings, she relives favorite times and longs for her mother. The connection to the dead boy seems fuzzy, at first, until the ending when Minou finally resolves to have the adventures her mother will miss.
The message is simple, but hidden within Jakobsen’s meandering prose. The story is poignant and charming, with obscure phrasing, that may or may not appeal to you.
I wondered if I could trust Descartes’ way of finding the truth if he had been an awful man. But then I reminded myself that logic could be held up against bad weather, and years without apples on the apple tree, and had nothing to do with either kindness or love.
This slim volume of 217 pages seemed much longer – must have been all the philosophizin’.