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The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets

Sophie Hannah

" Sleeping with Edwin will no doubt turn out to be a mistake. Not because he is Edwin (although that feature of the situation is bound not to be without its drawbacks) so much as because he is – to me, at any rate – a symbol. He is almost more a symbol than a person. One should never copulate with one’s symbols. It invariably disrupts their imagery; often they come to signify something far less welcome."

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary

“Everybody has their secrets,” insinuates the blurb on the back of this book, “and in Sophie Hannah’s fantastic stories the curtains positively twitch with them.” 

True, but that’s only half the picture. Hannah has an uncanny knack for setting out her stories in such a way that you feel you could find your way blindfold amongst the Formica and office furniture, get comfy, maybe even a little bored because familiarity can breed contempt – only to find yourself tripping over the psychopath lurking by the kitchen sink. Well, not literally a psychopath, although more than one story carries a strong whiff of something in that line. These horrors are, for the most part, more domestic. Take the family-next-door in The Nursery Bear, for example, who put me in mind of The Stepford Wives and Invasion of the Bodysnatchers. Are they as creepy as they seem, or is it all in the heroine’s mind? The evidence is unnervingly prosaic, a bit of graffiti here, a couple of Georgia O’Keefe prints there, but it adds up to something superbly unsettling. 

Hannah writes with real wit and a rich vein of Northern humour underpins several of the stories, perhaps the best example of which can be found in the tale that gives the collection its title. The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets follows the dubious enthusiasms of a thwarted writer reduced to sorting dirty linen in a hotel in Loughborough while constructing ever more fanciful plans for her future as a best-selling author. Frustratingly, this story, like a couple of others in the collection, doesn’t really progress anywhere, leaving the heroine – and the reader – in a state of agitated limbo. 

The same fate awaits the heroine in The Tub, which was otherwise my favourite story in the book, about a woman (Joanna) who is "between mates" and rendered immobile by her own imagination. I was reminded of Daphne du Maurier’s heroine in Rebecca, and half-wished someone would give Joanna a good shake to get her out of The Tub and back into life. 

The stories I enjoyed most were those with strong denouements and a pay-off for the reader. The Octopus Nest, which won the du Maurier prize, was an excellent example of this. And you couldn’t ask for a more definitive ending than that to The Most Enlightened Person I’ve Ever Met. By contrast, the subtle pathos of Twelve Noon was the perfect showcase for Hannah’s compassionate rendering of life’s flotsam and jetsam, delivering its ageing heroine to the brink of a despair which hints at mental collapse and devastation. This was one instance where I was happy to be left wondering What Happened Next.

Sarah Hilary is thrilled to be part of the 2008 Crime Writers’ Association anthology, MO: Crimes of Practice, which will feature her story, One Last Pick Up. She won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with Fall River, August 1892. Her story, The Eyam Stones, was runner-up in the Historical Contest. Both stories will be published in the Fish anthology 2008. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and daughter, where she is writing a series of crime novels set in London and L.A. 

Sarah's other Short Reviews: Katherine Mansfield "The Collected Stories"   

Muriel Spark "The Complete Short Stories"   

"I.D. Crimes of Identity" anthology

Susan DiPlacido "American Cool" 



PublisherSort Of Books

Publication Date: 2008

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Awards: Her  story The Octopus Nest won in the Daphne Du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition 2004.

Author bio: Sophie Hannah writes crime fiction and poetry. Her psychological thrillers have sold close to 200,000 copies in the UK alone. Little Face was long listed for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel of the Year Award, and has been long listed for the IMPAC Award. 

Read an interview with Sophie Hannah

If you liked this book you might also like....

Daphne Du Maurier  "Don't Look Now and Other Stories"

What other reviewers thought:

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The Independent

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