Book Review: The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah

17884654Title: The Orphan Choir

Author: Sophie Hannah

Genre: Horror, Ghosts

Age Group: Adult (18+)

Rating: 2 stars

Purchase: Amazon

Louise is bereft. Her seven-year-old son Joseph has been sent away to boarding school against her wishes, and she misses him desperately. And the neighbour from hell is keeping her awake at night by playing loud, intrusive music.

So when the chance comes to move to the country, she jumps at it as a way of saving her sanity.
Only it doesn’t.
Because the music seems to have followed her. Except this time it’s choral music, sung by a choir of children that only she can see and hear…

The Orphan Choir is a strange book. More than half of the book is exposition, setting up for this grand and mysterious supernatural event to happen in the last fifty-or-so pages. This isn’t particularly bad – I like horror stories with a good build up – but the problem here is that the climax is so anticlimatic it feels like the build up is going nowhere. There are so many inconsistencies in this book and so many moments where I was going ‘what the hell is going on’ that I’m surprised the author already has several books under her belt. It reads like a debut novel, in that plot-wise it’s still clumsy, and there are so many plot holdes I’m shocked an editor didn’t catch them.

Louise has felt depressed ever since her seven-year-old kid has been sent away to boarding school, where he sings in a professional choir. Her relationship with her husband is less than amazing, and she misses her little boy. She starts hearing strange noises in her own home, but initially blames it on the neighbor, who likes to blast his music all through the night. When the music that starts playing is a children’s choir, she thinks it’s just another way of the neighbor to torment her. She calls in the police, and a female cop shows up who acts a little strange but otherwise promises Louise to help her fix her problem. When Louise’s husband in another act of egocentrism decides it’s time to sand their house, blocking out all light for weeks, Louise starts feeling like a trapped animal.

She finds a gated community selling houses, and convinces her husband to buy a second home there, where they can take Joseph during his holiday. It baffled me that one moment Louise is worrying about spending money and the other moment they buy a second home, while renovating their current home. It makes no sense to me, but I was willing to forgive that if the book wasn’t riddled with other errors of the same sort. At the community, everything is fine for a while, and Louise begins to suspect hearing the eerie choir sing was due to stress and losing her son to the boarding school rather than the noisy neighbor. That is, until the noise resurfaces when she hears her son will be forced to go back to boarding school early. While her husband Stuart tries to calm her down, Louise begins to seriously freak out and has a ghostly encounter that’ll change her forever.

The problem is that the ghosts make no appearance until at the end, which makes this book read more like a psychological thriller rather than a ghost story. I’m not saying the author should’ve gone into full-out ghost mode straightaway, but the tension builds up for too long and results in too little. The encounter at the end is hardly spectacular or scary. Louise is an underdeveloped character who has no backbone to speak of, and only has two emotions: fear and anxiety. She constantly worries about what others think of her, and never develops throughout the book. Joseph and Stuart are more like cardboard figures than people. Stuart’s sole personality trait is to annoy Louise constantly, making me wonder why they ever married in the first place.

Then there’s this scene at the end coming out of nowhere that made me want to throw the book in the garbage bin. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be vague here. Something happens, out of nowhere, without any hints whatsoever, and it’s messed up and strange and makes absolutely no sense. It’s a Deus Ex Machina moment more obvious than I’ve ever seen before.

When Louise has her encounter with the spirits, it’s not even remotely scary, which was another letdown. I would’ve at least hoped, since this book was classified as horror, that it would be scary. Instead, it’s a melancholic, sad, depressing moment.

The pacing is slow, but I could live with that. The writing is pretty bland, but somehow it works. Even Louise’s less-than-interesting personality works. What doesn’t work are the clichés piled upon clichés, the storylines going nowhere, the absolute lack of tension and the unnecessary plot twists to over-complicate the book. I for one, am not impressed. If you’re a fan of ghost stories, you can give The Orphan Choir a shot, but there are a lot of other, far better, ghost novels out there.


  1. I just finished reading this book, and was looking for an explanation of the ending of this story. That’s how I found your blog.
    What a let down the ending was. And I also don’t really get it. Did Beth kill Louise’s son at the end of the book, and did Louise then kill herself? I almost can’t believe it if I díd understand this correctly. Because it’s such a stupid end to this otherwise great story.

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