Little Face

little facePublished: 2006
Author: Sophie Hannah

Gripping writing but unsympathetic characters


Over the past couple of years I’ve spotted several Sophie Hannah novels that appeal to me but because of that ever-growing list of unread books I’ve been loathe to actually buy any and open myself up to a new author. If I love the first book I read of any author I tend to get a little obsessive and want to buy everything they’ve ever written. This was not a good prospect. There is very little room left in the house for more books and I’m trying to stay away from the Amazon account – too dangerous. This year’s World Book Night gave me the perfect, guilt-free opportunity to buy Little Face and see if Sophie Hannah is the someone who’ll be filling up my bookshelves in future.

Little Face is part psychological thriller, part police procedural and is the story of Alice Fancourt, a new mum who leaves her two-week old daughter alone with her husband for the first time. On her return home she discovers that the baby in the cot is not her child and is a stranger to her. Her husband disagrees and Alice’s world collapses into a nightmare of suspicion, humiliation and violence. Only DC Simon Waterhouse seems to believe her story but his own credibility is questionable.

I’ve rated this book 3.5 which is a decent score but that doesn’t stop me being a little disappointed in it, especially as I went in with quite high expectations. The premise was excellent, a terrifying scenario which should have played out very well and the writing was snappy and kept me reading into the night. The trouble was that it was just too over the top. First the baby goes missing, then the husband turns into an emotionally abusive creep, then there’s suspicions about the death of the husband’s first wife, then the mother-in-law is a controlling nutjob. And that’s just Alice’s problems. Add Simon’s into the mix and we’ve got a book so full of issues that it’s hard to know what to focus on.

As for the characters – not one of the five main characters was likeable or sympathetic. Not even the mother who has lost her baby. Everyone was so intent on being right about their beliefs and opinions that it made it hard to find any one character worth supporting. Alice lost all my attention when it became clear she was a homeopath by profession – immediately that shouted “unreliable fruitcake” at me. Maybe that’s just me and my belief in medicine that’s more than just water though… I suspect if you have no strong feelings about homeopathy then you would be less prejudiced about Alice.

The switch in narration from Alice’s first-person POV to the third person POV on the chapters that focused on Simon was also a problem. I understand Hannah intended there to be a mix of unreliable narrator and honest story-telling but it didn’t work. Perhaps if Simon’s story had also been first-person it might have been better but I’m not sure.

The ending also left me cold and with too many questions unanswered. I want to know how much of the preceding story I could trust. Had characters been unfairly treated? There was also one major plothole which surely led everyone who has read the book to ask the same simple question.

While Little Face was well written and addictive while reading it, there are too many unsympathetic characters and plotholes for it to be truly satisfying. I’ll try a second Sophie Hannah book – but maybe not a third. I certainly won’t be rushing out to complete the collection.

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