Book review: Haven't They Grown by Sophie Hannah
Haven't They Grown - Sophie Hannah
You've got to hand it to Sophie Hannah; she is wonderful at presenting you up-front with an intriguing and seemingly impossible situation so absurd that you are completely drawn in. There's no option but to keep on reading to see how she is going to resolve this. The other great thing about Sophie Hannah and particularly in the case of Haven't They Grown is that while the outcome and resolution might not be wholly convincing, the author never resorts to cheating the reader or lets them down.
She has her work cut out for her with this scenario. Beth Leeson's world turns upside down when she decides on a whim to check out the former home of a couple of old friends, Flora and Lewis Braid. She and her husband Dom haven't seen the Braids for 12 years; once close, going on holidays together, their lives have gone in different directions with some underlying tension adding to them drifting apart. Beth is surprised to find that Flora is still at the house, but what is shocking and what makes her start to doubt her sanity is that 12 years on Flora's two children Thomas and Emily are still 5 and 3 years old and don't seem to have aged a day since she last saw them. How could that be?
To be fair it's not Beth who doubts her own sanity but her own family. Beth knows what she saw and even heard Flora call the children by name so there is no mistaking. Although her husband and daughter try to come up with some rational explanations, Beth remains admant, her suspicion about something so strange turning to concern. She might not be able to explain it but partly because of some incidents that took place on the past between the two families, she knows that there is something seriously wrong and she's determined to find out, even if it makes her sound deranged.
No matter how absurd or seemingly surreal the situation appears, there is an undercurrent here that is very much attuned to everyday reality and Sophie Hannah is particularly good at tapping into the complexities of modern life and the neuroses and strange behaviours of seemingly ordinary people. On the one hand, there's the question of modern parenting, Beth finding her teenage children's behaviour, attitudes and outlook completely alien but clearly her behaviour shows that the sentiment works both ways. Social media platforms might be the preferred method of communication for a new generation but the older generation had their own social networks, known as gossip, and could certainly de-friend or drop acquaintances without the need for Facebook.
Haven't They Grown also proves to effective and far more original at delving into the social and behavioural insecurities that have led to the current glut of female paranoia thrillers, where there danger of stalkers and abusers is heightened by modern surveillance and tracking technology. And where lives are open to scrutiny however, there's also a greater case for creating fake lives, with all those Facebook profiles and Instagram pictures of perfect families having perfect holidays, living perfect lives. It's a weird way to behave and Sophie Hannah recognises this, recognises that people's lives are much more complicated and strange than they let on to the outside world, that we hide the things we don't want people to find out about, which can indeed lead to reality and perceptions becoming twisted.
Although her insistent probing is vindicated to some extent, there's even something obsessive in Beth's behaviour, wanting to find out about other people and obsessing over other people's business and lives. Her sensible husband Dom warns her to keep out of it, knowing that such behaviour can appear odd and lead to something messy, but again the in time of fake news and fake lives, how can we judge what is normal and what is true? Sophie Hannah has a terrific way of making this troubling development into an intriguing, wild mystery, but there's an unsettling truth behind Haven't They Grown.