Another book that I read at the end of 2012! This holiday season I read A LOT OF BOOKS.
I first really came across Sophie Hannah when I saw her speak about literary crime novels a few months ago. She talked
about writing puzzles and loving Agatha Christie and she pretty much had
me from there. I asked for her first novel for Christmas, it arrived in
my stocking and then I read it in a day.
Little Face is about new mother Alice Fancourt who comes home from her very
first trip out of the house alone to find a strange baby in her
two-week-old daugher's cot. Is she insane? Or is this a plot cooked up
by her controlling husband - a man whose first wife died a few years ago
in mysterious circumstances...?
Good plot idea, right? And rest assured, this book was GOOD. It was a
thriller that actually thrilled, a book with a plot so involving that I
literally couldn't put it down. And it was very, very well written. If I
didn't believe in the concept before, after reading Little Face I
couldn't possibly argue that there is no such thing as a crime novel
that is also good literature. (Please note: I am not arguing against
this for a second. Of COURSE crime novels are literature. I will defend
the crime novel to the bitter death).
Hannah's very good at teasing you with details that seem mundane, until she flips them around to reveal the whole frighteningly crazy picture they build up to reveal. Alice's dull, shiny upper middle class life, in her big house with her proud husband and wealthy mother in law, steadily turns into Gulag Suburbia, everyone playing everyone else with layer upon layer of insane mind games that aren't so far from the mind games Hannah herself is playing with her readers. This is a crime novel where you aren't actually sure for quite some time whether a crime has actually been committed at all, let alone who committed it.
Even the police are scarily fallible, both of the main detectives personable but deeply flawed characters who get involved in a weird love triangle with Alice that gets steadily more strange and awkward as the novel goes on. Hannah's very interested in how people interact with each other, the emotional motives behind every action that a person makes. It's a psychological story with an intensely inward-looking plot, and it absolutely works. I tore through it like a storm.
The only flaw I could find was in the ending. Little Face has a twist in its tale, but whereas there are books (see Before I Go To Sleep)
where the twist has you running through the house yelling I KNEW IT! I
KNEW IT! I AM FABULOUS!, there are also books where you stop, stare
blankly ahead of yourself and go, wait, what? Little Face, for me, was one of the second kind. The conclusion was objectively very clever, but it smacked me in the face with a spin on events that I didn't totally like. Some characters didn't get the
resolution I'd hoped for for them (or, in other cases, the retribution), and the
ending left me feeling a bit thwarted.
I suspect, though, that my reaction to the reveal comes from the fact that I was enjoying the book and its characters so very much that I got carried away and started writing my own ending in my head, and when Hannah's perfectly good one (inevitably) didn't match mine it confused me. I mean, I love Dorothy Sayers but I am still mad at her for making the wrong person the murderer in The Documents in the Case, ten years after I first read it. Not that I think the wrong person did it here, but... you get what I mean. I have difficulty turning off the 'writer' part of my brain sometimes.
Nonetheless, god does Sophie Hannah write well, and god is she a sneaky plotter. This was great, and I need all of her other books immediately.