(2014) F. R. Tallis, Pan, £7.99, pbk, 376pp, ISBN 978-1-447-23602-3
I do not know about you, but when I am tired, I cannot keep things in focus or perspective. And when it’s hot weather, it’s even worse – tempers flare, the smallest noise is amplified and concentration goes out the window. (We have two small children living next door to us, who the parents seem to allow them to scream all day – and particularly all night – I am dreading a hot summer)…
I really enjoyed this book. Set in the summer of 1976 (for younger readers, a really long, hot summer), the main characters are a (relatively) young couple (Christopher & Laura) and their toddler (Faye), who have just moved into a villa in the Vale of Health, Hampstead. He is a composer of experimental, electronic music, who is trying to recapture the artistic plaudits of the past; she is an ex-model (photo on the cover of Vogue, etc.), who is being drawn to Islington feminism.
He is searching for some new inspiration and starts hearing voices over their child’s baby monitor, voices which at first do not make sense but seem to imply something is going to happen (perhaps to their daughter), voices that he decides to include in a new piece, and so he starts to record them.
She has the responsibility for raising their daughter (as he is chasing his dream) and wants to get the new house sorted, particularly the garden. She calls in a gardener who she meets through the women’s group, who sets about restoring the rockery. All the while, she is conscious of catching sight and sound of something; of what she is not sure, but it establishes a sense of foreboding.
And then there is the daughter, who they find staring at corners of the room, having conversations with the voices, and who eventually disappears.
Lastly, there are a number of secondary characters who come and go; a French film director who wants a soundtrack to an avant-garde film, the female gardener, a sex-interest for him (thankfully the two sex scenes are not overly gratuitous) and her husband, the detective who investigates the disappearance (and a later death), while lurking in the background (in several senses) is a previous owner of the house.
As I said, I enjoyed this book – it was an easy read; I remember that summer well, and I like that area of London, so it had a lot going for it. There were times when the 'new-people-in-an-old-house' scenario got to be a bit like those fine comedies Beetlejuice and Amityville Horror (parts 1 to a zillion). I struggled with the idea that the husband would carry on recording voices of the dead without really contemplating any consequences. And the ending, while good, was a little bit too neat.
The author is a clinical psychologist, and understands building a story. He has a number of other titles to his name; I shall be looking out for them.
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