Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah – where I’m with the half that died …

Ruth Bussey knows what it means to be in the wrong and to be wronged. She once did something she regrets, and her punishment nearly destroyed her. Now Ruth is rebuilding her life, and has found a love she doesn’t believe she deserves: Aidan Seed. Aidan is also troubled by a past he hates to talk about, until one day he decides he must confide in Ruth. He tells her that years ago he killed someone: a woman called Mary Trelease. Ruth is confused. She’s certain she’s heard the name before, and when she realises why it sounds familiar, her fear and confusion deepen – because the Mary Trelease that Ruth knows is very much alive …

I’ve enjoyed the Sophie Hannah books I’ve read in the past and indeed we’ve reviewed her work twice at Vulpes Libris, once for The Point of Rescue and once for The Book of Everybody’s Secrets.

Sadly, this particular book didn’t quite hit the mark for me and, like poor Ruth, I was for the majority of the time left floundering and deeply confused. That said, I loved the beginning which pitches us instantly into the scene where Aidan confesses to Ruth what he believes he’s done. It has the trademark Hannah tension I’ve come to admire.

The problems occur after that chapter. The tension is so drawn-out and reiterated in different guises that it began, I’m afraid, to get dull. There’s an awful lot of padding which needed a good editor to prune it. I did understand there were many very complex strands to the plot including: the shocking truth of what happened to Ruth; the misunderstandings inherent in her relationship with Aidan; Aidan himself; and the very strange history of the relationship between Charlie (female) and Simon, the two police officers investigating the situation. But these strands needed to be handled with a lot more clarity and sense of purpose than is evident here. I did wonder on one or two (possibly more) occasions whether in fact the author had popped out for a while but the keyboard had mysteriously continued to churn out words and ever more peculiar plot links in her absence. Which she unaccountably failed to deal with when she got back.

In the end, what I got out of the book was the fact everything was a muddle for everybody and nobody seemed to know what was going on. Though, much to my pride, I did manage to work out the mystery rather too long before we reached the final pages. And a sense of general muddle was really my position once I’d reached the end. Yes, there’s something about art, who painted what and why, and why a particular artist committed suicide, or if she was murdered. It’s all very meaningful (I think) and no doubt worthy but, to be honest I couldn’t make head or tail of it, and I certainly couldn’t begin to explain it to anyone now.

In addition, the other huge strand of the novel which is the difficult relationship between Charlie and Simon has a great deal of potential to it – and, from memory, I’m sure they’ve turned up in earlier books and been very interesting – but here they keep going over the same ground and it becomes tedious. There’s no emotional development between them so it frustrated me to see how the position between the two of them is the same at the end as at the start. In fact there’s more fizz between Charlie and her sister Liv, and I loved some of their bitchy but loving exchanges.

On the good side, the relationship between Aidan and Ruth definitely develops, sometimes for the worse and sometimes for the better. I did very much enjoy where they ended up – that was a nice move. I would have loved to have had more from Aidan’s viewpoint also as he’s a fascinating character, but it wasn’t to be, sadly. Oh and I also really loved Saul, Ruth’s former employer. He was a sweetie and a gent, and how I longed for more of him too.

I also must say how very well-written indeed is the scene where we find out exactly what happened to Ruth and how it made her who she is now. It’s a shocking and violent crime (Jackie – please be warned …) and it did make me feel ill. Such here was the power of the writing and I could have done with more of this sort of prose in the less violent moments too, and without the feeling of nausea pressing on my chest.

In the end, however, this novel doesn’t show Hannah anywhere near her best and I hope future books I may well read will at least have a far sharper editor to do them justice.

The Other Half Lives, Hodder 2009, ISBN 978-0340 93315 2
Also available as an ebook

[Anne has herself written a novel about art and crime but, being a simple soul, she thinks hers was relatively easy to understand. Her latest book is satirical crime story Not a Shred of Evidence.]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

17 comments on “The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah – where I’m with the half that died …

  1. drharrietd
    August 16, 2012

    This was recently adapted on ITV in the UK, but VERY much pruned down and in my opinion not very well done. I have read it and didn’t think it was the best of SH’s novels, though I always enjoy her writing. Her most recent, Kind of Cruel, is superb, so I hope you won’t let your disappointment with this one put you off.

  2. annebrooke
    August 16, 2012

    Thanks, Harriet! I will go and look up Kind of Cruel for sure 🙂 And I didn’t dare watch the TV version as I was so disappointed with the book – glad I gave it a miss now …

    Anne
    xxx

  3. Lisa
    August 16, 2012

    What a shame, Anne. I have heard so many good things about Sophie Hannah’s writing.

    I often hear that editors cut novels to the bone, but obviously that wasn’t the case here.

    Oh well, plenty more SH books to explore.

    Thanks for the detailed review, Anne.

  4. annebrooke
    August 16, 2012

    Would definitely read other Hannah books, Lisa – just not this one! 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

  5. Hospitable Scots Bachelor
    August 16, 2012

    Great to find a literary blog with real meat on it.

  6. annebrooke
    August 16, 2012

    🙂 Many thanks, HSB – we try our best here in the Foxes Den!

    Anne

  7. Kate
    August 16, 2012

    Yes, we are generous Foxes, we leave meat for others to enjoy … Can’t say SH books appeal at all to me, Anne, but that’s because you’ve done a beautiful dissection, showing all the body parts without spoiling anything for others.

  8. annebrooke
    August 16, 2012

    Thanks, Kate! I knew my O level Biology would come in handy one day … 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

  9. Jackie
    August 16, 2012

    Very amusing review & thanks for the warning about the violence. All in all, one it sounds best to avoid. I wonder if this was an early work that was dusted off & published? That might account for the drastic difference with her other more recent books.

  10. annebrooke
    August 16, 2012

    Thanks, Jackie – and yes, I’d avoid it. Hadn’t thought about the early work theory – you could well be right! 🙂

    Anne
    xxx

  11. Hilary
    August 16, 2012

    Very tempted now to try this author – and it’s a disappointment that this one has drawbacks, as it sounds so promising! In fact, I’m still tempted to try it, with your strictures in mind……

  12. whatmeread
    August 16, 2012

    Your Sophie Hannah fans might want to know that this book is called The Dead Lie Down in the U.S. The publishers seem to do this a lot with her books. I already mistakenly bought one book twice by Hannah because it had two different titles.

    I actually thought this book was better than Anne describes, and did not find that it got bogged down.

  13. annebrooke
    August 16, 2012

    Do try it, Hilary – and let me know what you thought! Glad you enjoyed the book, WMR – great to know someone kept up with the plot intricacies though I do think other Hannah books are much better 🙂

    Anne

  14. cherylmahoney
    August 18, 2012

    Sounds like a disappointing one–such an intriguing premise! I hate when books don’t quite live up to their potential.

  15. annebrooke
    August 18, 2012

    Me too, Cheryl! Thanks for the comment 🙂

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This entry was posted on August 16, 2012 by in Entries by Anne, Fiction, Fiction: crime and tagged , , , , , .

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