Jane's Reviews > The Other Half Lives

The Other Half Lives by Sophie Hannah
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Apr 17, 11

Read in April, 2011

I bought a copy of The Other Half Lives a couple of years ago. I started reading, and then I stopped. Because even for Sophie Hannah, queen of the seemingly impossible scenario, this one just seemed a little too unlikely.

In a London hotel room Ruth and Aidan agree to share their deepest, darkest secrets.

“It doesn’t have to be everything. Just … as much as we can … “

She tells him that years ago she did something wrong to a woman and a man. She was punished excessively, and she has never recovered from it. She is too distressed to say any more.

He tells her that he killed a woman.

She is stunned.

He says that her name was Mary Trelease.

She is confounded. She has met Mary Trelease and she knows that she is not dead.

So why does Aidan insist that he has killed her?

Second time around I read this opening more carefully. I saw that both Ruth and Aidan were complex, damaged characters. That both had clearly left much unsaid. I was intrigued.

Both Ruth and Aidan approached the police. She went to Charlie Zailer and he went to Simon Waterhouse, and so Sophie Hannah’s recurring characters from the Culver Valley Police Force were drawn into the story.

Those recurring characters have grown on me, but the balance between them and the particular story never seems quite right. Once the main story gets going it’s not an issue at all, but this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed a rather long diversion away from the main plot early in a novel, that hasn’t added too much value.

But after that diversion the story was off and running, and I was very definitely hooked.

The continued existence of Mary Trelease was swiftly proved, but she was a very strange woman and both Charlie and Simon was both sure that there was something amiss. And so, although there was no case to investigate, investigate they did.

Their stories are mixed with Ruth’s first person account to fine effect.

Initially the story moves slowly, with the case focused on Ruth, Aidan and Mary. I couldn’t say that I like any of them, but I believed in them and I was intrigued. It was clear that all three had secrets and I wanted to know what those secrets were.

Eventually the story opened out and all of those secrets would be revealed.

A positively labyrinthine and perfectly paced plot twisted that way and that. Eventually it built to a very clever ending. An ending that explained everything, and it was psychologically complex and true.

I have deliberately said very little about the plot, because there is nothing I can say without giving too much away. But I think I should warn that it is very dark in places.

Sophie Hannah has pulled off her usual trick of making me believe the unbelievable because her characters are psychologically spot on. And because as the revelations came I could understand each one a little better.

Three distinctive, flawed, complex characters. One in particular will haunt me.

Fine writing and excellent plotting held everything together. The book was long, but there was always something to keep me hanging on, keep me turning the pages.

I spotted a few of the author’s trademarks. I spotted quite a few cliches of the genre. But it didn’t matter.

An unbelievable story held me, because it’s author made me want to believe.

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