I don’t know what it says about me that I’m more frightened by creepy children than almost any other horror story trope. I’d far rather face down an axe-wielding, blood-crazed killer than a small, wan-faced child in an ankle-length Victorian nightshirt.
In Sophie Hannah’s The Orphan Choir, as if one isn’t bad enough, there’s a whole pack of creepy child ghosts, their choir robes perfectly mimicking the terrifying nightshirts. To quote the BCC it’s ‘the chilling story of a woman haunted by music that only she can hear, sung by a choir of children that only she can see.‘
I won’t say too much about the plot because like most scary stories, the terror is in the reveal. Hannah’s style is simple and punchy. Where I thought she excelled was in the opening sections of the book as central character Louise becomes mired in a dispute with her neighbour – who she refers to as Mr Fahrenheit because of his anti-social love for the music of Queen – that leads her to question her sanity. Hannah describes relationships between people particularly well. Louise’s interactions with Mr Fahrenheit had my hackles rising within just a few paragraphs and Louise’s relationship with her husband makes for believable if uncomfortable reading.
While certain elements lingered in my mind after lights out, the ending of the book didn’t quite live up to the beginning. Writing this review, I kept thinking of my experiences with Helen Dunmore’s The Greatcoat and wondering if it was me. I loved both books when they were still in the early, scene-setting stages; all hints and whispers in the woodwork. Once the plots lurched out of the shadows, I felt they lost a little of their power.