All In the Family

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A Game for All the Family: A Novel by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow, $26.99, 447 pages)

By now, if all were well and this were a normal weekday morning, Ellen would be in her forest-green school uniform and on the bus, almost at Beaconwood. Alex, in torn jeans and a sweatshirt, would be asleep on a train from Berlin to Hamburg, en route to his next German concert.

What genre designation is appropriate for this book? Firstly, there never is a “normal” or even an ordinary day portrayed within its covers. We jump right into the rambling narrative of Justine, a woman who has recently left her demanding career in London to move to the country with her husband, Alexander, and teen daughter Ellen.

Alexander is a well-respected opera singer who travels frequently to venues around Europe; therefore, his home base can be almost anywhere. Ellen has been enrolled in Beaconwood, a private school that bears no resemblance to the one she attended in London. Justine hopes to fulfill her fantasy of Doing Nothing, as she like to announce to anyone who will listen.

Some of the chapters are set in an alternate typeface that designates them as the work of a writer who is composing a novel about a family with some bizarre issues. Perhaps it is a work of fiction, or even a thinly disguised expose of an actual family in serious need of an intervention.

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The plot skips around and has a jerky home-movie made in the 1950s quality. There are myriad odd occurrences and very strange characters that pop in and out of the tale. Justine is the subject of menacing anonymous phone calls that include death threats. One might wonder what has happened to set previously stable author Sophie Hannah on this wild, unpleasant and twisted ride.

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Woman with a Secret: A Novel by Sophie Hannah (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 416 pages)

Ms. Hannah’s prior work, Woman with a Secret, also suffers from a choppy beginning and a bit of confusing plot shifts. Here too are the trademark typeface shifts that she has employed in past novels. Woman with a Secret needs a list of characters to assist the reader in deciphering the multiple perspectives depicted throughout the tale. The husband and wife team of police detectives featured in the plot do not share a last name and their co-workers are numerous to say the least.

This time around the main character, Nicki Clements, is a woman who yearns for excitement in her “normal” life in the suburbs of London. She’s a wife, a mother, a sister and a daughter whose past haunts her. Damon Blundy, a caustic columnist for the Daily Herald, is found murdered with his mouth taped shut with tape. Nicki receives countless sinister emails from a person she cannot identify. Somehow she is linked to the murder. Her first-person narrative and the third-person narrative from the other characters’ perspective give the reader the feeling of being spun around with a blindfold in place. Once the blindfold is removed, it’s anybody’s guess what lurks in Nicki’s past and why she’s linked to Damon Blundy’s death.

If by now you are wondering what’s actually happening in Woman, I’m not going to tell you as it would take more space in this review than I’m willing to give.

Woman is recommended, for ardent Sophie Hannah readers; everyone else, no.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were provided by the publisher.

A Game for All the Family was released on May 24, 2016.

Woman with a Secret was released in trade paperback form on April 12, 2016.

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