The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

196724293 of 5 stars

As seems to often happen when I read a Sophie Hannah novel, I spend much of the time feeling bewildered, but at the same time being unable to put the book down. The Orphan Choir is a standalone novel by the author of the Spilling CID series, and this book is a bit of a departure from that fare. While the other books I have read by Hannah are often intricately plotted mysteries, this suspense novel felt more personal. The Orphan Choir follows the first person account of Louise, a mother missing her 7-year-old son who is away at boarding school, during a relatively short period of her life.
The novel begins with Louise preparing to knock on her noisy neighbor’s door in the middle of the night to ask him for the umpteenth time to turn down his music. This event, seemingly ordinary as it is, is drawn out over many pages. As a reader, I kept wondering what the point was, but at the same time, the sense of menace hiding in the shadows kept me reading. The novel continues its disjointed pacing, as it jumps to other seemingly mundane events in Louise’s life which ultimately accumulate to create a sense that she may be losing her grip on reality. Throughout the novel, the reader increasingly wonders whether Louise is in fact the victim of a bizarre conspiracy, or whether she is crazy. The final chapters of The Orphan Choir bring all the disparate events together in a rather slapdash way; we are given one and two sentence explanations of secrets heretofore unrevealed that have critical significance to the plot.
The Orphan Choir was, therefore, a difficult novel for me to categorize until the final chapters. For all that the novel left me perplexed, the fact is that it was still an addictive read. This, I think, it part of Hannah’s strength as a writer. It’s true that her novels are often convoluted.  And, in the case of The Orphan Choir, I felt unsure whether I was reading a mystery, a tale of psychological breakdown, or a horror novel. But despite this, Hannah has the rare capacity to create characters whose dialogues and personalities are some of the most natural that I have ever seen. Louise has a wonderful sense of humor, and the emotional struggles that she and her husband go through add a depth to the story which elevates it above being purely plot based. Hannah’s characters seem genuinely alive, which is one of the greatest compliments I can give.
In the end, The Orphan Choir left me feeling unsettled and not completely satisfied. I am not sure what to make of it, but I plan to read more by Sophie Hannah in the future, because her novels, whatever imperfections they may have, are always interesting.
I received an advance review copy of The Orphan Choir from the publisher through NetGalley.

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