My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Seven-year-old Hanna has never spoken a word.
She is a sweet but silent angel in the eyes of her adoring father, but with Mummy, things are different. Suzette loves her daughter but difficulties with babysitters and teachers over the years have put a strain on their relationship and her sanity.
Then Hanna speaks for the first time, to Suzette alone, and what she says is chilling.
Suzette wants to write it off as a scary joke, but she’s becoming increasingly frightened by Hanna's little games. Could she be in danger from her own child? And when it's her word against her daughter's, can she make her husband believe her?
A twisty, darkly compulsive psychological thriller/horror tale realistically creepy and deeply disturbing.
This is written alternately between Suzette (the mother) and Hannah (the child) which chronicles the events between a mother and a very manipulative little girl whose blatant refusal to speak drives a wedge between them. Hannah was a normal baby but when she reached the age to be able to speak she simply refused to do so. Her parents tried everything with her and took her to countless doctors and hospitals for tests but they could find nothing wrong with her. Her inability to speak lead to problems in schooling her and (what they perceived to be Hannah's frustration to communicate) consequently her bad behaviour around other children meant that she eventually was considered to be too much of a handful and schools didn't want her. Suzette took on her schooling at home but eventually she felt she couldn't cope with her and being trapped in the house with a frustrated and often manipulative child was taking its toll on Suzette with constant battle of wills and tantrums. That is until daddy comes home, at which point this wilful child turns into a smiling, loving angel who has all his attention and his indulgence. Like most fathers they find parenting so easy as they only see their children for a fraction of the day while the mothers may have had the day from hell. Suzette is left feeling pathetic and whingey that she can't cope with her child.
Suzette is also at a disadvantage as she has health problems and through a combination of pain and lack of sleep finds Hannah a handful and is constantly questioning her parenting skills. Hannah is quite menacing and we glimpse an insight into a childs' mind and how they can misunderstand actions and signals and pull these round to justify their bad behaviour. Once we know there is nothing mentally wrong with Hannah (or at least nothing she has been tested for) the child takes on a more chilling and calculated persona. Every little victory for her is a loss for Suzette. Eventually Hannah does speak but it's frighteningly like she is possessed. Zoje Stage is careful to keep Hannah's 'voice' as childish as possible which only adds to the creepiness of the whole situation.
Daddy of course does not at first believe there is anything amiss with his perfect angel of a child, who overall appears to be very advanced for her age. I found the researching on the internet by a seven year old a bit of a stretch but to enjoy this you have to accept a few leaps of faith. Suzette although weakened by her illness does become genuinely afraid of her daughter and I could see how this could manifest itself in rational mothers. But she has to accept she is the adult and take control of the situation.
I felt there was a shift of power when Suzette does become as manipulative as Hannah when she has to convince daddy that the best course of action would be to take Hannah away from the family home. By now the situation has gone on too long and Hannah has targeted Suzette as the focus for all her misfortunes regarding her obsession with her father and Suzette is afraid for her life. Strangely I got the impression that although Suzette had suffered at the at the hands of her daughter she does really still love her but doesn't like her which allows her to become removed from emotion. Suzette is happy that she is no longer in the house and both her and her husband have more time for each other and with their loyalties no longer divided they are returning to a time when there was no Hannah, they find they are more at peace without her.
It is a disturbing look into the mind of a child that is wilful and manipulative and shows what can and sometimes does happen when a child is given too much attention and is allowed to 'control' and run the show. I know of a lot of children who are given rein to do what they please and have little boundaries which make them difficult to handle and although Hannah did have these she was able to play off one parent against the other like a game, a game which she very much enjoyed that gave her power.
A good read that was well executed by the author. Initially I was convinced that there was some mental problem with the child but as I read on (and being a somewhat spirited child myself) I could see perfectly the opportunities that Hannah had to get her own way and gain attention from a doting father, and unfortunately for her, the consequences that bought out the monster in her that in the end she couldn't control - or could she?
There's a sequel in there somewhere I'm sure and I'd love to read it. 5 stars from me.