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by Sophie Hannah
Picador, January 2014
288 pages
ISBN: 1250041023

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

As THE ORPHAN CHOIR opens, many readers will immediately empathize with Louise Beeston, the narrator for our story. She is depressed over her son's being forced to board at school and she is desperately trying to sleep, but her next door neighbor is yet again hosting a party with music that fills the Beeston home with the voices of Queen and other popular party tunes. Louise again makes the trip to the neighbor's home - a trip she has made more times than she can count, to ask him to please turn the volume down. She expects this to end like all of her previous trips, with the music volume briefly being lowered before returning to full blast, but this time it turns out even worse. The neighbor taunts her about why her son is not living at home and then switches to classical music. When she awakens her husband to ask for his support he tells her he'll deal with it in the morning and suggests she try sleeping in the office.

Rebuffed by her husband, bone tired and riled up with the audacity of the neighbor Louise does not go to the office to sleep. She calls the Council Environmental Health Office and gets an official to come out to take her complaint. Even though the music stops before the officer hears it, Louise is sure she has found an ally with the agency. But things don't go quite as Louise imagines. Not only does the noise from the neighbor not stop but even worse, Louise begins to hear music - choral music that no one else hears. Worse, the music she hears does not stop even when the family moves.

This book is a bit different from the author's other books which come down as straight psychological thrillers. The main character in most of Hannah's books is a woman in psychological peril whom readers come to care about. Louise is not a character readers are going to warm up to as is usually the case with the author's books. The narrator Louise is clearly disturbed and does have a noisy neighbor problem that many will relate to, but she just isn't a very likeable person. There is a sense that there is something off about Louise and the entire set up of the story but readers have to wait until quite far into the book to find out what all is involved. There really are not many clues along the way or layers to the plot to keep the pages turning. Is she just a strung out sleep-deprived house wife, is she deeply depressed to the point of being nearly psychotic over her son's absence or is there something else at play here?

The book is billed by the publisher as "Domestic Horror". When I started THE ORPHAN CHOIR I didn't know what that classification is supposed to mean, and after finishing it, I still don't. This isn't really a horror story though there is a bit of horror, nor is it exactly a ghost story either though that element is also a possibility. It is certainly is a departure from the author's usual style and is likely to leave readers a bit haunted in the end.

Caryn St.Clair resides in University City, Missouri and is a former elementary school media specialist, President of the Parks Commission and a docent at the St.Louis Zoo.

Reviewed by Caryn St Clair, November 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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