Fantastic book?

I didn't quite get what I was expecting when I picked up Sophie Hannah's The fantastic book of everybody's secrets. What I was expecting was a novel in psychological thriller mode, instead I got a book of ten short stories, some of which were definitely psychological thriller material, and others were, well, just plain odd - although generally good odd, not odd odd, if you see what I mean. Hannah's stories are an intriguing mix of Daphne du Maurier (think Don't look now rather than Jamaica Inn) and Roald Dahl's Tales of the unexpected.

The opening story The octopus nest won first prize in the 2004 Daphne du Maurier Festival short story competition. A deserved winner, dark, mysterious, very much in the style of du Maurier's short story writing. A family are unnerved when they discover a stalker, but who is stalking who? The title story is a darkly comic tale in which the author, Ian McEwen, becomes a father confessor.

Some of the stories are gently comic musings on everyday life, relationships gone wrong, and trying to start all over again, being stuck in that job you hate and trying to get out of it, a spot of revenge against that colleague you can't stand. All the stories are set against very ordinary backgrounds, and this seems to ratchet up both the suspense and the fear factor. The final story The most enlightened person I've ever met was a tale that made me feel genuinely uneasy, a true tale of obsession; while The nursery bear was as creepy a little story as you could hope to meet anywhere, you'll never look at your neighbours in quite the same way again.

The tales were patchy, some were undoubtedly much better than others with The octopus nest being a stand out winner; but they gave me a real feel for Sophie Hannah, whose novels I would now definitely like to read. The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets is well worth a browse, just be careful which tales you read late at night....


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