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Little Face is the story of a lady called Alice.
Alice is married to a wealthy man called David a widower whose first wife Laura was murdered after they had separated.
You never really know what goes on behind the closed doors of a home and this is never more so than in the case of David and Alice. They appear from the outside a happy well off family with a young child and a new baby being assisted with whatever they need by a doting grandmother. Is that really what lies beneath? No, far from it.
Alice seems to have fallen for this persona in the beginning and merrily got married and became wife, stepmother, mother and daughter in law to all concerned. It isn't until Alice has baby Florence that little things begin to hint to Alice that all was not right.
Mother in law Vivienne is a woman who is as sharp in her demeanor as in her dress and controls each and every situation she encounters including the lives of Alice, David and Felix. Felix is David's son from his first marriage to Laura and spends his time with his grand mother when not at the private school that she enrolled him in.
Up until Alice has her baby everything seems to be well, Vivienne is buying and advising on everything the couple need and want for their new child. You as the reader get the hints then that she is a control freak with perhaps more of an agenda than one could imagine. Alice seems to be not concerned by this and when she has had Florence, she leans to Vivienne for support when she finds none in her husband.
Florence is the baby but is she Alice's baby?
When Alice returns home after leaving Florence for the first time with David, the story twists.
Alice swears blind the baby is not Florence. David is having none of it and becomes increasingly angry. As a reader you want to believe Alice but a little part of me thought is she right? Could this just be postnatal depression serving a cruel twist and making her delusional? Or is she right and that is not her baby and someone has stolen her? Did David know?
Alice enlists the help of Vivienne, strange as she is David's mother, but she believes that Vienne is a matter of fact person and will be hell bent on finding the truth whatever the cost.
Simon is the police officer sent to look into the case of missing Florence and has a bizarre infatuation with his newly acquainted Alice. Simon in turn has an admirer in his college Charlie and is somewhat bitter by the fact that Simon has his sights on Alice. This plays as a background to the story but does show how Simon's determination to believe in Alice helps solve the mystery.
Darryl is the man who is serving a prison sentence for the murder of Laura. Is he involved? How could he be he's in prison, but did he murder Laura in the first place or is the killer closer to home?
The story unfolds and the killer of Laura is revealed along with the story of whether or not this is Florence.
What the story does involve the reader in is the complex relationships between the characters and the psychological / emotional torture that some people endure and place upon others. The person who inflicts the most demeaning acts is two part where they born like that or made like that by some close, you never really get to find out - maybe it's a bit of both.
Overall a good psychological thriller.
Little Face by Sophie Hannah, available in paper/hard back and kindle from all good book stores for around £5.00 and under. Published by Hodder 2006.
Review maybe posted on dooyoo and ciao under the same username.
I recently saw one of Sophie Hannah's books in my local bookshop and read the blurb. It was interested and pulled me in. I did not buy in on that occasion but I did remember the name of the book for future reference. Little Face.
I am not a mother myself but from the excellent writing skills of Sophie Hannah, I fully understood how scary and alarming it must be to come back and find a baby, that isn't yours. Worse still, if your partner does not believe you, more so if people begin to think you are crazy. I loved the way Sophie Hannah put Alice Fancourt, the mother of the newborn baby (Florence), into this situation because not only did she put Alice into an "everyone is out to get me" scenario, she puts the readers into it as well.
When Alice first realizes that Florence, her baby, has been abducted and replaced by another baby, she keeps onto her husband, David Fancourt and also her mother in law, Vivienne Fancourt. It's not long before the reader begins to suspect the two of them, either in it together or just one of them. David Fancourt is actually a horrible, nasty man and although he doesn't physically harm Alice he emotionally tortures and abuses her. For instance he makes her strip in front of him even though they never see each other naked, he makes her wait to go to the toilet even though she is desperate and another time he makes her eat of the floor. The emotional abuse is a theme of the book but not something that pops up every two minutes, it just re-inforces the issue that David Fancourt could very well be the person responsible for the baby swap. In fact as a reader, you want it to be him.
Another issue of the book is David's first wife and mother to his first son, Laura was killed two years ago. As a result David gained full custody of his son, Felix, and they all began to play happy families with Vivienne in her home. These sort of things throughout the story begin to point to either David, Vivienne, a partnership or that Alice is in fact crazy. The last of those is possible, even though as a reader you know there is something in what the writer is telling us. Nevertheless it remains a possibility, particularly with the police.
We get to know three people really well in Little Face, Alice, DS Charlie Zailer and DC Simon Waterhouse, as well as the two suspects. DS Zailer has problems from my point of view - she was rejected by DC Waterhouse and since has held grudges over it. She will not back down and will at any opportunity turn a conversation into something sexual. It makes for great reading trying to establish whether Zailer and Waterhouse actually like each other or whether they just have a professional relationship. Waterhouse becomes fascinated with Alice and is not sure that she is crazy when everyone else thinks she is.
I was literally on the edge of my seat with this book, especially when Alice goes missing with Little Face. The baby that was left instead of Florence has been nicknamed Little Face and it stuck throughout the book. As the end nears some twists and turns happen, ones we were expecting perhaps and ones we were not. I was disappointed with the ending, not least because I was so thrilled by the rest of the book.
I hope Sophie Hannah's follow on books include Zailer, Waterhouse and some more of that superb writing of hers. I am still giving it 4 stars because until the ending it really was excellent.
'Little Face' starts when new mum Alice Fancourt returns home from her first trip out, three weeks after giving birth to her daughter. Her shock and distress are unimaginable, when she becomes adamant that the baby she left at home with her sleeping husband David has been swapped for another baby - not her own. Of course, no-one, except the likeable but weak Detective Simon Waterhouse, believes Alice, least of all her husband or controlling mother-in-law.
Although Alice is portrayed as a slightly irrational and crazy woman, you can't help but be drawn to her as she tries with increasing frustration to convince the world around her of her sanity. Some of the other characters such as David and his mother Vivienne are hard to relate to as we never see their points of view and their reactions to Alice are often impossible to advocate. As I'm not a mother myself, I cannot even begin to imagine the 'living nightmare' which Alice goes through, so I assume that this book would be even more gripping for mothers who can relate to Alice and her feelings.
As Alice feels more and more isolated amongst her family, David's treatment of her is horrific. It is not something I expected of what appears to be a loving father, and the person who should be Alice's rock in her time of trouble. What makes it even worse is that he gets away with it, twisting it to make Alice seem more crazy than usual. Her desperation and frustration is entirely realistic, as unfortunately this abuse is something totally possible.
The book is also written from the point of view of Detective Simon Waterhouse, as he tries to piece together Alice's situation. As he is the only person to believe Alice, he becomes very likeable and you begin to trust what he says, although his relationships with Alice and his female boss Charlie are sometimes frustrating. Simon is often accused by Charlie of having a 'thing' for Alice, which in a way becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as he becomes preoccupied with proving Alice's point of view to be correct. At the same time, Charlie tries in vain to make her feelings for Simon known, and for them to be reciprocated. Simon cannot allow himself to get involved with Charlie after an embarrassing mistake of a fling some time before, which just makes Simon seem a bit soft and weak in character. These emotional entanglements, for me, got in the way of the plotline a bit. Had they been omitted, Simon would have been a very admirable character indeed.
As the story unfolds and the conclusion draws nearer, the reader is left guessing as to whodunit and how everything fits together. I think this is exactly what makes a thriller thrilling - the process of trying to fit everything together yourself whilst still being thrown clues and red herrings as you go. The desire to find out what did in fact happen to the baby will keep you reading to the end, if nothing else will, at which point all loose ends are tied up.
However, this process of finding out whether Alice was right or wrong and what happened to the baby is rather drawn out. It seems a little like Sophie Hannah is trying to keep you guessing a little too long, and when she eventually lets you know what happened, she says the same thing several times over just in different ways. She could have cut the 'final chase', as I like to call it, down to half the length but still achieved the same effect. The answer is something you probably won't have guessed yourself, so is still quite shocking, but had it been given to the reader more swiftly it may have packed more of a punch.
If you like thrillers you won't be able to put this book down, although near the end the pace slows down a bit which does let the book down. Other than that, it is a good read and something I would recommend, although it's not the type of book I can see anyone going back to read several times again. I won't be forgetting it in a hurry, but I think that mothers would be a more suitable audience for this book. For mothers, I imagine it would be especially engrossing as you would be able to relate to Alice's situation, emotions and reactions a lot more easily.
What would you have done in Alice's shoes?
Two weeks after the birth of her daughter Florence, Alice Fancourt returns from a short trip out into her worst nightmare. Whilst her husband has been sleeping, her baby has been swapped and the baby in the cot is not her daughter.
Alice is confronted with increasing hostility from her husband who insists the baby is in fact Florence whilst the police are convinced she is either crazy or lying. How can Alice convince everyone that the baby in her home isn't hers before it is too late?
I randomly picked this book from someone's RISI list when they requested one of my books because Initially I thought the premise of this story was very interesting indeed. I did question the tag line of "It's every mother's nightmare..." however, because, although I'm not a mother, I think the prospect of someone entering your home and swapping new born babies over is not something that would initially cross your mind as a plausible scenario.
Therein lies Alice's problem - no one believes that someone would really enter a house to swap over a baby - abduct the baby yes, but to actually swap them over? No. This story is told from several points of views, Alice's, Simon who is the policeman who is investigating the case, and very occasionally, Charlie who is Simon's boss. The story begins with Alice's point of view and by starting with her point of view, I felt that I was immediately on "her side" as it were - the way in which the whole swap was explained seemed genuine to me and I felt frustration at the other characters for not believing her.
However, my enjoyment of a swift and pacy story was soon put to a stop completely as the story started to go backwards and forwards in time as well as alternating the characters points of views. It wasn't exactly the alternating of opinions that bothered me, but the mixture of time jumping as well as lots of long winded, and in my opinion, unnecessary depth into each of the characters thoughts, feelings and relationships towards each other. For the first couple of chapters, I read intently about Alice's depression after her parents death, the vice like grip that her mother-in-law Vivienne had on the family and how Alice's husband no longer confided in her. Likewise, I read about how Detective Simon Waterhouse had a difficult working relationship with his boss Charlie because of a fumble a year earlier, how he was extremely good at his job and how he had a "thing" for Alice. All of these stories SHOULD have made for entertaining reading - I realise that all of this careful attention to the characters emotions are supposed to lead the reader into accusing or sympathising with each of the characters as they get caught up in the missing baby story. For me, I didn't think this was done successfully . I felt like I was wading through mud - the switching around of times, places and people as well as their stories felt clumsy slow and, quite frankly, uninteresting.
As a result, I went from sympathising with Alice's increasingly frantic and erratic behaviour to frustration at how she seemed to not be helping her situation with a horrible husband like David. Equally, my feelings towards Detective Simon Waterhouse changed once I got into the story, he firstly appeared to be a nice likeable guy, but soon I also found him irritating and spineless. There were two characters of interest for me, David, Alice's despicable husband, and Charlie, Simon's boss. David's weird behaviour through the book ensures that the reader is kept guessing as to his role in any dramas that occur. Equally, I was shocked, appalled and disgusted with the way in which he treated Alice towards the latter half of the book. His personality changes were a source of intrigue for me throughout, and I was disappointed that his character wasn't explored further. The same for Charlie, unlike David, she was a likeable character, and for the first half of the book she also is an intriguing character, loud, rude and crude but utterly likeable. I was pleased that the author decided to include her opinions during the end part of the book and I would have liked to have seen more of her; she was an interesting character and for once I felt that the development of her feelings towards Simon through "her chapters" was actually interesting reading compared to the others. It was just a shame that both David and Charlie didn't have a large role or more of a development as the characters of Alice and Simon (for most of the story at least, my opinions of Alice at least changed towards the conclusion of the book) were like wet, uninteresting fish!
So, if all this was so bad, why did continue reading? It's simple. By the time I had worked out that I hated the author, Sophie Hannah's writing style and the way in which she probed incessantly at certain characters who were quite boring in the first place, I was still interested in the mystery of the swapped babies. Credit where credits due, the way in which the actual bare bones of the story is developed is expertly done. I found myself in the end skipping the large sections where the characters are just rambling on about their thoughts and feelings and trying to find where the story of the babies (and other developments, which I won't spoil) took off. Once I found these, I was just as baffled as to who was lying, what had happened and what the truth was and so for that, the story kept me engrossed.
Another plus for me about this book was the horrific portrayal of Alice's home life with David and his mother Vivienne. Their wickedness crept up on my quite slowly and, as I have already mentioned, I was literally outraged at their treatment of her - especially by her husband. I found the way in which this type of abuse was portrayed was extremely clever and well done as it did evoke all sorts of emotions in me - I found it all very plausible indeed.
Overall, I found this a difficult book to get through and it was far from a relaxing and enjoyable read for me. My motivation for getting through the book was to find out the truth behind all the mysteries in the characters stories, but in the end this didn't save it from being disappointing overall. To balance it out, Simon was a weak character for me and Alice appeared weak throughout which made it hard after a while to understand her. The long passages that explain how each character is feeling and what they are thinking about certain people and situations were just tedious and uninteresting and destroyed the natural flow of the story. However, the way in which the story was told and the way in which the reader is kept in the dark as to the truth of the baby swap was cleverly done - I can imagine it is hard to write a story like this and not have the reader know immediately what the outcome is. That is not to say the in the end, the truth wasn't shocking, although it was plausible and I admit to wanting to just glance through it again knowing what I know about all the characters. The thing is, I don't care enough about it to do that!
I have been waiting to read this for almost a year since I first read the blurb, and I was certainly vindicated: it is superb.
The story unfolds via two narratives set a week apart in which a race against time develops. In the first chapter, new mum Alice Fancourt describes the horror of arriving home to discover that the baby in the nursery is no longer her own. Within this chapter, the writer subtly positions Alice as a slightly on-edge character who seems frightened simply to be out of the house without her child, before the revelation of the strange baby. Already the reader is questioning Alice's control, which helps to understand why the local detective is so dismissive of Alice's 'story'.
In the second chapter, narrated by an omniscient third person narrator and set a week in the future, there is a further shocking development as the local police officers learn that Alice and the baby are missing, possibly abducted. Now, another police detective is convinced that Alice's husband has hurt her somehow and is responsible for another, even more serious crime...
It sounds like a complicated beginning, but the way it is narrated is immediately engaging as the reader struggles to work out what is really happening. The clues are there throughout, but it is testament to Hannah's skill that the truth about Little Face is only revealed in the final chapter. The plot is intricately constructed without seeming to be because the reader is so focused so the psychological chill created by the dominating characters in Alice's life. Apparently convinced that his wife is lying, David gradually develops into a much more threatening and psychologically convincing character than he initially appeared. The records of Alice's informal talks with the sympathetic policeman make her sound thoroughly irrational, in sharp counterpoint to her own carefully narrated tale, and once again forces the reader to question her mental stability, raising the possibility of a thoroughly unreliable narrator.
The police officers themselves are fully developed characters with large flaws, which is just as well since half the novel focuses on them. Detective Sergeant Charlie Zailer is adamant that Alice is mad, but this is largely influenced by her own feelings about Detective Constable Waterhouse, who seems to be falling in love with Alice. This leads to a complicated atmosphere as they try to work out who is hiding what, why, and how it might be linked to a supposedly-solved murder. These characters have survived to flourish in the next three books in this series (I'm now looking out for the fourth!).
Hannah's written style is fluent and convincing; her characters are flawed but intriguing; her plot is skillfully developed and believable. This is an enjoyable read for those who like their crime fiction to focus on the psychological aspects rather than the evidence. Apart from some predictable moments in the denouement - why do villains always feel the need to confess their crimes in full? - this is an enthralling read with characters that will haunt you and a twist that will compel you to immediately start leafing back through the pages to refine your understanding.
I recently discovered the author Sophie Hannah after being given this book as a present. I was hooked from the first page and read this in two days!
When Alice Fancourt returns home after being out for the first time without her two-week old baby daughter Florence, she realises that the baby daughter she returns home to, having left her in the care of her husband David, is not Florence, but a baby she has never seen before!
David insists the baby is their daughter Florence, and that Alice is going mad!
Is Alice going mad? Or is David lying? And if he is, why would he do such a thing, and where is Florence?
Alice alerts the police, but has no proof, and DNA tests are taken. Whilst waiting for the results, David's behaviour towards Alice changes, becoming quite sinister and Alice feels threatened herself, both by him and his controlling mother Vivienne. She needs the police to believe her but feels she is running out of time.
There follows some good twists and turns before the ending and the police find themselves having to re-open the murder case of David's first wife, Laura. I won't spoil the ending for you, but it kept me guessing and this was another book I found hard to put down, and I have since gone on to read her other novels which are just as good.
We are also introduced to Detectives Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse in this book and some chapters also concentrate on their lives, problems and feelings for each other, but it blends in well with the story. Charlie and Simon also feature in Sophie Hannah's other two novels which were published after Little Face.
If you like a good psychological crime thriller then you will enjoy this book. It was number one in Amazon's crime thriller chart for over a month, and after reading it, its easy to see why!
Reading the blurb on the back of the book, I was looking forward to reading it, and sure enough it started well.
As the book progressed, however, the plot seemed to veer off in odd directions. I realise that part of the narrative was intended to confuse the reader until the end, but there were scenes in it that were never explained nor resolved. The reader was not given enough information to follow the plot and feel just one step ahead. Exceptional thrillers allow the reader to work out the plot a page or two before it happens, rather than dumping it on them out of the blue.
I found the characters were sketchy, and a couple, who I perceived to be important to the plot, were never fully developed.
On the whole, disappointing
I bought this book with no idea of what the works of Sophie Hannah had to offer, though what intrigued me was the mystery that lay behind the cover picture, which was incidentally very well chosen indeed. Often stories don't live up to the covers, though we as buyers are still pulled into buying books based on what they seem to be offering. The words upon the cover were tempting too that quoted "It's every mother's nightmare". I wanted something gripping, something that would hold my interest, and it showed promise.
This is a very well constructed piece of literature. The story revolves around the lives of Alice and David Fancourt, who live with a rather intimidating Vivienne, the matriarch of the family who is David's mother. The adventure begins when Alice decides to leave her child to go on an outing, returning to find that the child in the crib is not the child that she left.
The premise of the story is quite well presented, though to give too much away would indeed spoil the read, though some of the written style can be explained without spoilers. For example, the relationship between wife and husband is almost cruel, making Alice look quite timid and almost obsessive in places, and the reader is left wondering how real the world that Alice sees really is, balanced against circumstance. Vivienne is one of the strongest characters in the book, though here, you are never quite convinced of where the story is going, or what part she plays in it.
The mystery element of the book is kept together pretty well, enticing you chapter by chapter into the web of intrigue, making the book a temptation that's hard to put down in places. I also liked the way in which each chapter alternates between being narrated by Alice herself and Simon, the detective put on the case of the missing child.
Set in modern day times, there are little vignettes of people introduced into the story to give it substance rather than padding, and each is believeable. As a reader, you feel yourself taking sides, and then with the flip of a page, changing your mind about the whole scenario's possibilities. It's a clever work and what the author has done is balance David's past marriage nicely with what is happening in the present, tying the bundle up with murder, mystery and a good element of suspense.
Such was the clarity of the picture painted in words that a reader could imagine what the characters looked like and felt familiar with the types of character, as little characteristic traits were subtly portrayed in such a manner as to widen the readership possibilities. I believe it to be a good book for wide range of readers that enjoy romance, mystery, suspense and crime thrillers, as well as having an element of temptation to those who enjoy books about pregnancy, psychological illness and that the package includes little snippets of each element that hold the story together nicely.
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd; New Ed edition (24 Aug 2006)
At the paperback price of 3 GBP from Amazon, it's a bargain and certainly a book that I shall keep and read again at a future date, which is rare these days. It has also tempted me to look further into other works by the same author.
Would you know if that baby you left behind in the morning was the one that greeted you in the evening ?
Perhaps the answer is not as obvious as you think.
A new novel by Sophie Hannah is cause for great celebration, at least as far as I'm concerned. I loved her three previous novels - "Cordial and Corrosive" (probably my favourite), "Gripless" and "The Superpower of Love" - and am also a big fan of her poetry. So I was absolutely delighted to get my hands on this latest novel.
"Little Face" is, however, something of a departure from Sophie's previous work. It's described on the jacket as a "psychological thriller" and is clearly packaged and marketed as such, with one of those cover pictures - common to missing-child thrillers - of an empty corridor with an abandoned toy at the end, and the tagline, "It's every mother's nightmare...". Now, I like a nice psychological thriller as much as anybody, but this generic image was sufficiently different from Sophie's previous quirky novels to discompose me slightly. I still couldn't wait to read it, though.
The novel has an intriguing premise. Alice Fancourt, homeopath, wife of David, daughter-in-law of the unbelievably controlling Vivienne - in whose house they live - and new mother of two-week-old Florence, makes a brief trip out of the house for the first time since Florence's birth. When she returns, all hell breaks loose - there is a baby in Florence's cot, wearing Florence's clothes, but, says Alice, that baby is not Florence. Well, the words "post-natal psychosis" may immediately spring to mind, and indeed Alice is automatically assumed to be off her head by many of those around her, notably her husband. After all, she has just survived a traumatic birth, and has a history of depression, as David - not, it is fair to say, the world's most supportive husband - is quick to point out to the police. But naturally, the truth is far more complicated than that. And when both Alice and the baby go missing, the situation becomes even more urgent...
The novel is told, in turns, from the points of view of Alice and of the detective investigating the case, Simon Waterhouse, who becomes a little too involved in the case - falling foul of his superiors in the process. Sophie Hannah builds the suspense well and her characters are rounded and skilfully drawn. The apparent - and deeply disturbing - change in the character of David as the novel progresses is an alarming illustration of the dangers of marrying someone you don't really know all that well, and contributes greatly to the threatening atmosphere surrounding Alice.
As I mentioned, "Little Face" - the name Alice uses for the not-Florence baby - doesn't appear to bear much resemblance to Sophie's previous novels ("Cordial and Corrosive", for example, was an academic satire told from the point of view of a driving instructor). It's told in a more conventional format, for a start, and the humour which was evident in much of her previous work is largely absent here - after all, there aren't too many laughs to be derived from the situation in which Alice finds herself - although there are odd flashes of it. The book seems to have been marketed to appeal to a different audience; there is no mention of the author's previous novels in the brief biography on the back cover. This is borne out by the packaging and the "every mother's nightmare" tagline. (I'm not sure how true this is, actually. I worried about lots of things as a new mother, but the possibility that someone might come into my house and exchange my baby for a close replica was not one of them. Though probably only because it never occurred to me as a possibility.)
The novel has an absolutely cracking twist at the end. The kind that forces you to instantly re-evaluate everything that's gone before. This is handled really well and I definitely didn't see it coming, although with hindsight the clues were there.
I would highly recommend this and other work by Sophie Hannah. While the quirkiness of her previous novels may not appeal to everyone, they're definitely well worth checking out - if your taste is anything like mine, you have a treat in store! (Though I'm a bit alarmed that many of the "Little Face" reviews have referred to her "first novel" - there seems to be a campaign under way to expunge reference to her previous ones, which is unfortunate.) "Little Face", while clearly situated within the psychological-crime genre, manages to transcend this to some extent, and the novel stayed in my mind for a considerable time after I had read it.
Hodder & Stoughton hardback, 416pp, cover price £18.99. (Or try the library...) The paperback is out on 24th August 2006. I also learn from www.sophiehannah.com that a new novel and a collection of short stories are due for publication in 2007. Hurrah!