In a world full of uncertainties, one thing is for sure: the worst thing that can happen to anyone is to have a baby and lose her or him a week later. The paranoia and tension associated with such an event are at the core of Sophie Hannah’s novel Little Face.
The opening chapter describes how Alice, mother of week-old baby Florence, leaves her mother-in-law Vivienne’s house, where she lives, to visit the local exclusive health club to activate the membership recently given to her by Vivienne. The visit is surreal; throughout the chapter I was internally screaming at Alice to go home to her baby: I could not imagine how someone could overcome the strength of hormonally fuelled separation anxiety a week after giving birth to view a health club. Such is the dominance of Vivienne, who can overwhelm the feelings of those around her and control their actions, the health club episode being but a harbinger. When Alice returns home, she finds that the baby asleep in the cot is not hers.
The plot unfolds in an initially irritating temporal style, with chapters alternating between the beginning and end of the following week; and between the police investigation and the unsettling dynamics of Alice’s life with her increasingly distant husband, his son by his first marriage (yes, the first wife was murdered), his mother Vivienne, and the imposter baby — events which spiral out of control into simple but nerve-shredding episodes of sadism.
I eventually got used to the strange rhythm, and could see how the author is using it to keep the reader as on-edge as her characters. This is one book that you just have to keep reading once you start it. The ending is a bit of a let-down: just too complicated to be believable even though I couldn’t really fault the logic. Never mind, Sophie Hannah’s first crime fiction novel is a fantastic debut. I can’t wait for her next, whether or not it features any of the same characters.