Sophie Hannah is best known to me as a poet, but she is also a fine writer of psychological thrillers, if Little Face is anything to go by.
Alice leaves her two-week-old baby daughter, Florence, with her husband David while she goes to the health club her strong-willed mother-in-law has made her join. She misses her child terribly and rushes home – but when she gets back, the baby in the cot is not Florence. The police are called, but no one will believe that the baby is not her daughter. However, when both Alice and the baby disappear a week later, the police are back and looking again at the case, including the murder of David’s first wife years before. Is Alice suffering from post-natal depression? Has her child been taken? And where have she and the baby gone?
Alice’s confrontations with her spineless, cruel, bullying husband are what stand out the most for me, horrifying, claustrophobic and believable. The writing is precise and exquisite and the atmosphere of dread and suspicion is evoked perfectly.
The ending was a little disappointing, after such a brilliantly executed build-up, but this is such thoroughly satisfying psychological thriller that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
Major spoilers after the break, as I want to talk about the ending
I think my problem with how the book ended was that it relied on Alice being unreliable as a narrator in only one aspect of the story. She knew what was going on because she had planned it herself, and even with the explanation that she truly believed Little Face wasn’t her baby herself while it was happening, I still felt a bit cheated that I hadn’t been given an important bit of information which Alice knew. Don’t get me wrong, unreliable narrators are great provided that the story works, but the “kidnapping” or not of the baby was the pivotal plot point, which meant it felt unfair to make this the only thing about which Alice lied. It made me like the book a lot less at the end. It was a slightly disappointing end to what was otherwise a gripping, involving read.