The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah
|The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah|
|Reviewer: Liz Green|
|Summary: Four short stories about modern women – with a supernatural twist|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 96||Date: October 2015|
|Publisher: Sort of Books|
|External links: Author's website|
Sophie Hannah's The Visitors Book is a short anthology of modern stories with a supernatural twist. There is not a hammy gothic turret in sight as her characters experience their mundane, day-to-day, 21st century business -- a children's birthday party, a visit to a boyfriend, neck pain, the school run. Now, ghost stories based on ordinary people leading ordinary lives can be very unsettling indeed, making overly imaginative readers look over their shoulder at the bus stop, or giving them goosebumps for no apparent reason. So I was curious to see what Sophie Hannah, a writer I much admire, would make of this particular material.
There are four stories in this slim volume. In the title story, The Visitors Book, a girl goes to her boyfriend's house for the first time and is puzzled by his insistence that she sign the visitor's book. The story is cleverly plotted and I would defy anybody to predict the ending. In The Last Boy to Leave, a woman hosts a children's party and finds one of the guests stays longer than planned -- for entirely unexpected reasons. In Justified True Belief, Suzie believes she sees dead or dying people but her mocking husband says she's only justified in her belief if she turns out to be right. So she visits a brain specialist to find out... The book ends with the intriguingly named All the Dead Mothers of my Daughter's Friends. This is a story about school mums -- a wonderful and witty observation of the scheming and bitching that goes on at the school gate -- again, there is a nasty twist at the end and, again, you won't see it coming.
I love Sophie Hannah and think she writes like an angel, both in her poetry and in her psychological thrillers. The Visitors Book is not poetry in prose like some of her novels and I didn't find myself gasping over the sheer beauty of her writing like I might with some of her poems. But where she excels here is in setting the scene so effortlessly that the reader is immersed in the plot from the very first line. And her characters are all too believable -- they each have their counterpart in our own lives.
Is there a downside? Well, yes. Two in fact. Firstly, the stories are neat, they're clever, they're interesting but... they are not scary. I'm one of those people who likes to do things properly. If you have a curry, you make it a hot one. If you have a drink, you make it a strong one. And if you read a ghost story, well, it's got to terrify you or it's not just worth reading from behind the cushion. So although these stories were nice little tales with a paranormal twist, they are not stories that will stay with me and make me shudder, years later, like, say, The Woman in Black or Daphne du Maurier's Don't Look Now.
My other criticism is that, when I referred to it as a 'slim volume', I wasn't exaggerating. You could read the whole book in less than a couple of hours. This is, of course, partly testament to Sophie Hannah's fluid writing style, and partly to the fact that the book is, well, terribly short. While it will probably look very appealing on your bookshelf, it won't give you the same value for money as, say, one of her novels. But it's a good read nonetheless.
If you like ghost stories that really pack a punch, try The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (most effectively read in a dark room with flickering candlelight…).
You can read more book reviews or buy The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Visitors Book by Sophie Hannah at Amazon.com.
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