Sophie Hannah’s The Other Half Lives was so intriguing that not only did I read it at every opportunity I had, but I wanted to share the story with my wife who rarely spends time reading books. After each section I would put the book aside and bring her up to date with the story.
I first heard about the book from a very complimentary review in a Sunday newspaper. Very rarely am I tempted to buy a novel on the strength of a stranger’s recommendation, but this was one of the rare exceptions and without that review I probably would not have given the book any consideration, and if I’d known it would turn out to be a “crime novel” I would have been less likely to have taken an interest in it.
Considering my dislike of “crime fiction”, how did a book like this overcome my prejudice? Firstly its beginning didn’t fit with my idea of that genre and it was quite a way into the book before police investigators started to take a primary role.
It begins with Ruth Bussey being confronted with her new partner’s dark secret: that he, Aiden Seed, had killed a woman. Ruth’s initial shock resulting from this confession is compounded when she hears the name of the victim, Mary Trelease – a woman that Ruth knows is very much alive.
Ruth’s new relationship suffers from the turmoil created by the confession, and her attempts to discover the truth, and to convince Aiden that he did not kill Mary. Through this process we learn about Ruth’s own traumatic past which will re-emerge and affect her current situation.
The police become involved when Ruth tries to get them to investigate the murder she knows could not have taken place, hoping that where she had failed, the police may be able to convince Aiden of the truth.
This book has been described as a “psychological thriller” rather than crime fiction, and perhaps that label is more appropriate. Many of the characters have been damaged in some way by previous experiences, and those experiences are the catalyst that draws them all together within the unfolding conflict.
Towards the end of the book I lost a bit of momentum when I had to put it aside for a while. When I finally picked it up again I found it hard to get back into it. This was possibly because I was unable to devote a serious slab of reading time to one of the most crucial parts of the book; I could only read small portions at a time and I had trouble picking up the flow of the resolution.
I’m quite sure that Hannah managed to resolve all of the questions and quandaries she created, but my disjointed reading pattern at an important part of the story made it hard for me to appreciate the closure she brought to it.
If only I could go back and read it for the first time again, without the unfortunate break that disrupted my concentration at such a crucial time!
[I recently listened to an interview with Hannah, which can be found by clicking on the book title in the “Books Read” section the side bar. She reveals that a TV series based on her books is being planned.]