This is a stand-alone book from Sophie Hannah, a woman who creates stories using the most unlikely but not, unbelievable, disturbances of the mind.
On the way to their new home in Devon, the Merrison family; Justine, Alex and Ellen spot a house that resonates inside Justine for no apparent meaning. Justine has just left the world of TV drama and is determined to spend her days doing nothing. Ellen is enrolled into a quirky private school and Alex will continue to sing in Operas around the world.
All goes well, the ugly house is more or less forgotten and for the first couple of months the move out of London to Devon proves to be a good one. But then Ellen becomes withdrawn and secretive. Ah but she’s fourteen, so nothing too out of the ordinary! Ellen is spending all of her time working on a story she’s writing for an English assignment and when Justine finds the first couple of pages she’s alarmed. It is very well-written, set in their new house and has more than one murder! Around the same time Ellen becomes distressed about her friend George Donbavand who has been expelled from school for a crime he hasn’t committed. Justine visits the school and is told that George never existed!
This book had me totally confused but in an enthralled way. It is a puzzle where you have to decide who, and what to believe, and the author does a good job of making that path as murky as possible with each possible scenario being equally unlikely: if George doesn’t exist does that mean Ellen has invented him? Why? If he does exist why would the head-teacher deny his existence? And this is just the beginning!
Ellen’s writing assignment forms a story within a story, featuring a peculiar family, the Bascom’s, with their oddly named children, is well-written and entertaining (it is rare for a psychological thriller that has me sniggering in places) and although the reason for its inclusion isn’t immediately apparent (or for quite some time) I promise it all eventually does become clear.
I think it is essential that you read this book with the mind-set that you will go with the flow! I was slightly concerned when I got half-way through and was absolutely loving the ride but still had absolutely no idea what was going on, let alone where the solution to the puzzle was hiding. Fortunately Sophie Hannah weaves a wonderful tale, with interesting, if not likeable characters to stem my impatience. This is a book that raises more questions than it answers, has you believing, unbelievable events, and is populated by the most untrustworthy bunch of characters that you are ever likely to meet.
I loved it! It is a clever book, but not too complex (it didn’t make my brain hurt too much), the clues are there and this little detective actually managed to provide at least part of the solution once I’d found the question!
For readers who like their psychological mysteries to be something different, who don’t mind reading a story where you have to put your trust in the author that you will, once you’ve finished, be able to work out what all those entertaining words added up to, this is a fantastic read. This is a book of extreme psychological disorders, both in Ellen’s assignment and in Justine’s life. Justine’s life of doing nothing is punctuated with threatening phone calls, anonymous notes and graves being dug for her and her family causing distress and causing Justine to spend her days investigating who is out to get her, but much more importantly why?
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Lovereading who provided me with a copy of this book to review prior to its publication on 13 August 2015, another definite entry into the best reads of 2015, quirky, inventive and original. I was already a fan of Sophie Hannah’s and this is definitely her best book to date.