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I was in the mood for a spooky tale so when I spotted this Quick Read which claimed it would make me want to sleep with the light on, I decided to give it a try. Lynda La Plante is an acclaimed crime author and screenwriter, known for such masterpieces as Prime Suspect, so I was keen to see how she fared as a short story writer.
Barbara Hardy is a journalist, desperate to find a lucrative story, so she tricks her way into the home of a former soap actress, Margaret Reynolds. Almost immediately she becomes aware of lots of eerie goings on in the old manor house and comes to the view that she and Margaret aren't alone there. As the women bond and Margaret opens up about her life, Barbara realises that the exclusive story she has stumbled upon is more disturbing than she ever imagined. More and more dark secrets emerge, but for how long will they stay secret?
Clichés abound in this tale. Reclusive beauty, Margaret lives in a huge Gothic house with turrets at each end and stone creatures flanking the entrance, with a wooded copse behind it. It doesn't take long for us to hear crashes of thunder and there is even a sinister clockwork toy with a life of its own. Let's face it, when a character in a high-necked Victorian nightdress starts wandering around an old house holding a candlestick, you know that no good will come of it. Yet in spite of these clichés (or maybe even because of them) the author creates a delightfully creepy atmosphere. We have to remember that things only become clichéd because they work.
The reader doesn't have to work too hard with this one, because it makes good use of the tried and tested, universal things that send shivers down the spine.
I took an instant dislike to Barbara and spent most of the book hoping something unpleasant would happen to her. The line, "Barbara burst into tears" occurred too many times during this short read and each time it irritated me a little more. To be fair, Barbara - 38 years old, no boyfriend, no job, nowhere to live - is very different from your typical chic lit heroine. I would much rather read about a walking disaster zone than read about some mid-20s woman who packs in her cool city job, moves to the country to open a tea shop and meets a hunky farmer.
There is no distracting love interest here. It is just about Barbara, Margaret and that spooky house. (The house is almost a character in its own right.) The strength of the story is in the way it conveys the chilling isolation of the two women. Although there is nothing new in the theme of a character escaping a hectic, soulless London environment for a rural setting and making some life-changing discoveries about herself, it is achieved in a more imaginative way here. It is to the author's credit that she invoked some sympathy for the loathsome, meddling Barbara before the book was out.
I found the relationship between Barbara and Margaret quite mesmerising. I loved the way the mood could change in a matter of seconds, sometimes the women getting on like old friends but suddenly the wrong thing would be said and things would turn icy. As I read it I was on tenterhooks all the time, half hoping that Barbara would make some blundering comment that would bring about her demise, but half hoping that she would keep her mouth shut and not incur Margaret's wrath. Margaret presents as a more unhinged version of Nigella Lawson - dark shoulder-length hair and flawless skin, one minute unburdening herself of dark secrets, the next buzzing around her gas-fuelled Aga, explaining how to make Irish Stew. (In fact the Aga too could be said to be a character, because we hear so much about it.)
I felt the juxtaposition of 'normal' and 'paranormal' was handled very well. The descriptions of the manor house are such that one minute I was desperate to live there - impressed by the references to log fires, a Chesterfield sofa and of course the Aga - but the next minute I was desperate for Barbara to get out of the place.
Criticisms aside, I enjoyed this book. It drew me in from the start. I could picture the scenes very clearly - the dying embers of a log fire, eerie shapes on the wall, the stripped pine floors and winding stairways. Having grown up in an old house, I remember well the creaking, groaning and pipes banging. Funnily enough, one of my fears as a child was that I would wake up to hear a piano playing in the dead of night. This is one of the things that alerts Barbara to the fact that she is staying in no ordinary manor house. It didn't exactly make me want to sleep with the light on, but it certainly kept me turning the pages.
Although predictable in places, it had its fair share of twists and turns and I felt it would've made a superb full-length novel or indeed a film. In fact, I really wish it had been developed into a longer book because I did feel as though there was plenty more mileage in the idea and I was only really getting into it when it came to an end. There was scope for a lot more drama. However, the author's attention to detail made this one of the better Quick Reads I have encountered. She really made me feel as if I was exploring the manor house with Barbara, creeping around with my candlestick in the dead of night.
I also felt that the book captured quite well the fickle world of celebrity and the predatory nature of those who work for the press. It would appeal to anyone who likes a showbiz theme.
This book passed a couple of hours and I'd certainly recommend it as an effortless holiday read. The Little One can be obtained new from Amazon sellers from £0.80 in paperback or £1.99 for a Kindle version.
If you're ever on a weekend break, staying in accommodation (preferably Victorian) that is reputed to be haunted, you could do a lot worse than get a copy of this tale to read in bed at night.
I don't really go for the books which feature in the 'Quick Reads' section of our library, usually I find that short stories are either too crammed in with information or that the plot line is virtually non existant. With the situation that I was put into however I picked up The Little One, not expecting much, and began to read...
Barbara, a small time journalist not getting much luck at the moment, somehow has managed to trick her way into the home of the once popular actress Margaret Reynolds. Hoping to get information for an article it soon becomes clear that this former soap star has a secret. One which is connected to the house and one which seems to terrify her. This spooky manor has an eerieness about it and Barbara quickly discovers that she's going to get more than she bargained when she stepped inside.
I do like a good ghost story, unfortunately they seem to be in short supply at the moment so I was pleased when I saw this. I have a need to be scared or at least a little creeped out when reading one though and in the few that I've come across have failed miserably. This one however has bucked the trend! Barbara is a nice enough lady, ok so her tactics are pretty dodgy to getting a good story. But then she is a journalist. I felt that her lies were slightly unbelievable and parts of this book didn't ring true. I couldn't believe that all of the characters were that gulible and just took whatever she said as the Gods honest truth.
This book is really well written though. Whilst reading it at night and in the dark it successfully managed to get my nerves jangling! It uses subtle images, some of these aren't very original, to get you to imagine what's going on and it's more your own ideas that make this novel distinctivly spooky. As you get towards the end things start to fall into place and you do sort of know how it's going to end but that doesn't take anything away from it because by that point it's almost finished. I've heard people saying that they'd liked it to of been longer but I think that then it wouldn't of been as effective and may very well of ruined the tale.
This is a novel that I would really recommend, especially if you like to be spooked. However if you're after a book that gets you thinking with lots of thought provoking moments then I'd avoid. It's a simple tale which gripped me enough into reading in one sitting.