Title: The Orphan Choir
Author: Sophie Hannah
Release Date: January 28, 2014
Genre: Horror, Psychological Thriller
Rating: 4 out of 5
Louise Benson is bereft by the loss of her son, who has begun attending boarding school, and cannot find peace in her everyday life in Cambridge, England. To make matters worse, her inconsiderate neighbor has taken to blasting music at the late hours of her night, interrupting her sleep and driving her crazy. As Louise tries to grapple with her situation, her frustration with the lack of control in her life takes her to dark places where she isn’t quite sure what’s real and what’s not.
A bizarre tale of one woman’s life spiraling out of her control, The Orphan Choir is a strange but compulsively readable book. Fans of psychological thrillers will appreciate the deconstruction of the main character, as she rapidly deteriorates, and Hannah keeps readers guessing about what’s real and what is all in Louise’s mind.
The Orphan Choir is a strange, strange book. From the very first page, it’s clear that something is not right with the main character, Louise. Her son, Joseph, has this tremendous opportunity, yet from the way she discusses him at the beginning of the novel, the reader thinks that some tragedy has befallen him. It’s natural to be upset about being separated from your child, but her depression seems manic and alive. It’s very uncomfortable to read about as Louise becomes more and more obsessed with having her son at home beside her.
The situation with the noisy neighbor only serves to increase Louise’s mental fragility in The Orphan Choir. Of course the situation is frustrating, but to Louise, it’s insidious and completely devastating. It only serves to underscore (in her mind) that she has no control over anything in her life: not her son, not even her home or peace of mind. Louise degenerates rapidly, hearing music at all hours of the day and night. The interesting thing, though, is that Hannah creates doubt over what is actually happening. The neighbor is a pretty inconsiderate guy; the reader sees this at the beginning of the book. So is Louise hearing the music in her head, as a sign of a mental breakdown, or is her neighbor that bad, trying to push her over the edge?
The novel progresses at a steady clip, and readers see that, whether or not the music is actually in Louise’s head, she’s quickly losing her grasp on reality. Hannah writes this aspect of the book very well; Louise is difficult to like, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t fascinating. The end twist comes as a bit of a shock and, even now, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Suffice it to say that this book is classified as horror, and it certainly does that label justice.
The Orphan Choir is certainly a departure from Sophie Hannah’s other novels; it’s definitely a psychological horror novel. The pace isn’t lightning quick, but it moves forward steadily. The real center of the book is its uncertainty, the questions around what is truly happening and why. While the ending twist does provide answers, it may leave some readers feeling cold about the book as a whole. Still, it’s certainly worth the read; Hannah brilliantly portrays a woman breaking down as she loses control of the life around her.
Other books by Sophie Hannah: