TITLE: THE ORPHAN CHOIR
AUTHOR: SOPHIE HANNAH
PUBLISHER: ARROW BOOWS
BLURB FROM THE COVER
Louise is bereft.
Her seven-year-old-son Joseph has been sent away to boarding school against her wishes, and she misses him desperately.
And the neighbour from hell is keeping her awake at night by playing loud, intrusive music.
So when the chance comes to move to the country, she jumps at it as a way of saving her sanity.
Only it doesn’t.
Because the music seems to have followed her. Except this time, its choral music sung by a choir of children that only she can see and hear…
It’s quarter to midnight. I’m standing in the rain outside my next-door neighbour’s house, gripping his rusted railings with cold, wet hands, staring down through them at the misshapen and perilously narrow stone-steps leading down to his converted basement, from which noise is blaring. It’s my least favourite song in the world; Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’.
I really enjoyed The Orphan Choir. I read Hannah’s novella in one sitting. It was very different than her crime novels. In a good way. I like it when writers show they are more than a one trick pony. The Orphan Choir is one of those creepy novels where you’re never sure if there’s something supernatural going on or if it’s all in the main character’s head. I thought The Orphan Choir was a creepy little tale.
STRUCTURE: Hannah uses a simple structure in The Orphan Choir which you sort of need for a novella anyway. The chapters are fairly long and there’s only about a dozen anyway. The Orphan Choir is written in the first person from Louise’s point of view. This worked very well. Hannah lets you get right inside Louise’s head. This made her struggle to hold onto her sanity a very emotional experience. Hannah also includes extracts from Louise’s ‘noise diary’ sporadically. These entries deal with various noise disturbances from her neighbour from hell. These were really interesting to read. They revealed just how fragile Louise’s state of mind was.
PLACE: The Orphan Choir is set in three places; Louise and Stuart’s main home in the town of Cambridge, Joseph’s boarding school and the gated community in the country that becomes their second home. None of these places seemed very real. Hannah didn’t do a very good job of bringing the setting to vivid life. I love it when a writer makes a place so real I can smell and taste it. I felt the sense of place in The Orphan Choir was a bit bland. I didn’t get any real idea of what any of the places were like except the gated community seemed to be too perfect, Stepford-wife perfect.
CHARACTERISATION: The characterisation was okay in The Orphan Choir. Louise is the best character. You’re inside her head all the time. I really felt her struggle to hold onto her sanity as her neighbour’s loud, intrusive music got more and more personal. I sympathised with her. I had a similar problem with a neighbour a few years ago. My partner and I had to call the police 175 times before he was evicted. I think Hannah did a great job of showing the strain this caused in Louise’s life. I also really felt for her when she realised no one else could hear the choir music. Stuart was a well written character as well. I thought he was a bit of an asshole. He seemed to think Louise’s distress over their neighbour’s noise disturbance was exaggerated. He also seemed to think she had no right to miss her son so much. I would have divorced him if it had been me. The other characters were pretty flat and bland.
PLOT: The Orphan Choir is very chilling but nothing really sinister happens until almost three quarters of the way through when Louise sees the ghostly choir for the first time. Until this moment Hannah creates tension and builds suspense. I found myself wondering if Louise was imagining the music coming from her neighbour’s house. Was she imaging it all and the choral music? Louise becomes more and more fragile. The lack of sleep created by her neighbour’s music causes her to develop sores under her eyes that weep and bleed. She acts unstable. Her animosity towards her son’s school and teachers seems excessive. I wondered when she would completely crack. Then she sees the ghostly choir and seems to become more unhinged. I loved the revelation of just why the choir had chosen to appear to Louise. The ending was incredibly sad and I never saw it coming.
Paris by Edward Rutherford