Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Pretty Little Children - Sophie Hannah


Seldom does a book keep me reading all the way through to the end despite the frustration I feel the entire time I am turning its pages. Sophie Hannah’s Pretty Little Children just achieved that rarity - and I still feel frustrated. So let me tell you why.


First, the book’s hook is based entirely on a single sentence that is even prominently displayed on its cover: “Twelve years have passed…so why don’t Thomas and Emily look a day older?” The sentence is expanded upon inside the book jacket, too, with only a little more character background provided to entice potential readers. I’m not much of a fan of fantasy or horror novels, but because Perfect Little Children got nice coverage in one of the year-end issues of the New York Times Book Review as one of 2020’s better novels, I thought I’d give it a chance. 


To her credit, Sophie Hannah’s writing style makes for a relatively easy reading experience, so before I knew it, I was fifty or sixty pages into the novel. If I am going to abandon a book, this is the point at which I would normally do it, but I was no closer to the truth about the kids, and I was well and truly hooked by its essential question. I knew that if I abandoned it, I would wonder for weeks what the answer to the riddle on the cover was, so I read on…and on, and on without getting much closer to an answer. And that is my second complaint about Perfect Little Children. Nothing much happens, and when something does happen, it moves the reader only a minute distance toward any answers about what is going on with Thomas and Emily. All the while, Beth, the book’s main character is struggling to make anyone take her seriously, even most members of her immediate family. And then everything ends in one of those big-reveal confessionals in the book’s last couple of short chapters. I admit that the book’s ending is a clever one, but by that point I was so frustrated with its pacing, that I still wish I had never started Perfect Little Children. 


Bottom Line: So little happens that it is almost impossible to share any of the plot without risking an inadvertent reveal or two in the process, so I won’t even try to do that. Perfect Little Children is billed by its publisher as an “expertly plotted tale of psychological suspense.” Let’s just say that it plods along much too slowly to generate all that much suspense.

9 comments:

  1. Well that's disappointing. I have it when books end up being frustrating reads without a satisfying ending. Don't think I'll be adding this one to my TBR list.

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    1. The ending, except for one tiny twist, is very ordinary, really. This is one of the books that go into my "Disappointment" classification over on GoodReads.

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  2. Oh dear, that's a shame as I thought that one had potential when you mentioned it in another post.

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    1. I had my doubts about this one going in, but the hook was too much for my curiosity to ignore. It really turned into a bore at times despite the hook. I should have just turned to the end and read the answer to the riddle...would have saved a lot of wasted time.

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  3. I've read a couple of books by Sophie Hannah because they SOUNDED really good, but they also left me unsatisfied. Something about her stories just doesn't jive with me. Sorry you're having the same experience with her.

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    1. Sounds a little like she's really good with plot ideas but has a difficult time actually telling stories. That's never a good thing for a novelist.

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  4. Of course I'm still curious now as it sounds like a quick read, and I want to know the ending - maybe I'll just search for spoilers LOL

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    1. I take it that you found the "spoilers" I hope I managed to avoid. I wish I had Googled the ending for myself...never crossed my mind, but I wish it had.

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