THE ORPHAN CHOIR by Sophie Hannah

Book Quote:

“It’s quarter to midnight. I’m standing in the rain outside my next-door neighbor’s house, gripping his rusted railings with cold, wet hands, staring down through them at the misshapen and perilously narrow stone steps leading to his converted basement, from which noise is blaring. It’s my least favorite song in the world: Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now.’ ”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowsky  (FEB 13, 2014)

In Sophie Hannah’s The Orphan Choir, forty-one year old Louise Beeston may be on the verge of an emotional breakdown. Her creepy next-door neighbor, Justin Clay, plays loud music late at night, usually every other weekend. Although Louise has repeatedly implored him to stop, Clay is indifferent to her pleas. (Louise’s husband, Stuart, is oblivious to the cacophony. Even if a freight train were to pass through their bedroom, Stuart would remain asleep.) Unfortunately, Louise has little hope that Clay, a pot-smoking party animal who enjoys living it up with his loud-mouthed friends, will change his ways.

Adding to her distress is Stuart’s plan to sandblast the exterior of their sooty Cambridge home. The workman her husband hired plans to cover and seal their windows, leaving them without natural light for at least three weeks. In addition, the sandblasting will kick up a great deal of dust. All this would be bearable if Louise’s only child, seven-year-old son, Joseph, were living with them. Instead, he is a junior probationer boarding at Saviour College School, an elite educational institution that trains promising youngsters to sing religious choral music. Although Louise and Stuart see their son regularly, Joseph spends most of his time away from home. Louise hates this arrangement; she misses Joseph terribly. Stuart, on the other hand, argues that their child is happy and thriving, and should remain where he is.

As Louise narrates her tale of woe, we gradually start to wonder if she is completely sane. She admits that she is sleep-deprived, irritable, and resentful. Louise and her husband quarrel frequently and she soon becomes too distraught to go to work. Moreover, she is having troubling visions: She sees and hears a choir of children similar to her son’s, except that this group includes girls. Is Louise hallucinating? Or does this “visitation” have a deeper meaning?

The Orphan Choir is relatively brief, yet extremely vivid and powerful. The author is clever but not self-consciously so, and she uses foreshadowing skillfully to hint that everything is not as it seems. Hannah’s hard-hitting dialogue, adept use of setting, and wonderful feel for language add to the novel’s potency. We sympathize with the exhausted, frustrated, and high-strung heroine, and hope that she will somehow find the peace of mind she craves. Leave it to the talented and creative Sophie Hannah to spring some big surprises at the conclusion of this engrossing and eerie psychological thriller; the riveting finale will knock your socks off.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 16 readers
PUBLISHER: Picador (January 28, 2014)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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Note: Sophie Hannah is also an accomplished poet, see her website for more information on her poetry books.

February 13, 2014 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: Psychological Suspense, United Kingdom

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