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The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets (edition 2008)

by Sophie Hannah

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492238,224 (3.61)3
Member:gaskella
Title:The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets
Authors:Sophie Hannah
Info:Sort Of Books (2008), Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library, To read
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Tags:Fiction, Short stories, TBR

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The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets: Short Stories by Sophie Hannah

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3.5 stars

I have not previously read anything by Sophie Hannah, but somehow I had the impression that she writes crime novels, so I was interested to see how she would do in her debut collection of short fiction, The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets. After finishing the book, I looked at Hannah's author page on Goodreads and discovered that, in 2004, her story "Octopus Nest" took first prize in the Daphne du Maurier Festival Short Story Competition, and that story, which serves as the lead in this collection, is indeed stellar. Hannah keeps the terror at a fever pitch from the very first sentence before neatly redirecting it at the very end. Unfortunately, while the trip with Hannah starts and ends with a bang (the final story, "The Most Enlightened Person I've Ever Met," also garnered 5 stars), the middle is quite bumpy. The order of the stories appears unusually deliberate because the only other 5-star entry, "The Nursery Bear," is smack in the middle at #6, with stories 2 through 5 and 7 through 9 being much weaker.

There are some other stories deserving of appreciation: "Twelve Noon," which traps us in the skewed logic of an elderly woman trying to understand a road sign on her first drive in 10 years, and "You Are a Gongedip" (don't ask), whose pretentious narrator leaps fully formed from the page with the first sentence, both received 4 stars. Their pleasures, however, were outweighed by the 1-star "The Tub," involving a revolting sexual encounter after a breakup over (of all things) bubble bath, and the 2-star "We All Say What We Want" and "Herod's Valentines." Even the titular "The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets," which is based on the same social experiment as the PostSecret books, takes an inherently interesting premise and goes nowhere with it.

Interestingly, with the exception of "The Nursery Bear" at 28 pages, the best stories were also the shortest, ranging from 5 to 13 pages, while the worst ranged from 24 to 53 pages. What this tells me is that Hannah may write good stories under 20 pages and novels hundreds of pages long, but she has a "dead zone" when it comes to novellas. Readers should make their selections accordingly.

This review was based on a free ARC provided by the publisher. ( )
  BrandieC | Oct 17, 2016 |
Posted at:

http://web.mac.com/ann163125/Table_Talk/Table_Talk_Blog/Entries/2008/4/5_The_Fan...

I’m going to surprise those of you who know me well by telling you that I’ve just read a collection of short stories. Many of you know that I’ve been promising to do this for at least the past year but I’m afraid I have to be honest and admit that I wasn’t motivated in my decision to finally capitulate by the desire to do the honourable thing and keep that promise. No, what finally tipped the balance and got me out there into the short story community was the publication of a volume by one of my favourite writers, Sophie Hannah. I’ve posted about both of Hannah’s last two thrillers, Hurting Distance and The Point of Rescue and anyone who’s read my thoughts on those will know that I think she’s one of the most exciting writers about. The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets simply confirms that, and coming from someone who has had to have her arm twisted to read anything that doesn’t extend to at least a 250+ page plot that is praise indeed.
In this collection of short stories, Hannah has focused in on the impossibility of our ever really knowing the people around us, often the people to whom we are closest. Time after time the characters in her tales are forced to reassess either someone they thought they understood or, even more worryingly, what they thought they knew about themselves. What is more, we as readers are also frequently brought up short and put in a position where we have to alter the perspective we have taken on a character or situation. The first story in the collection, The Octopus Nest, sets this pattern up nicely as both protagonist and reader suddenly have to rethink everything theybelieved they knew when a situation, frightening enough as it is, suddenly becomes truly terrifying.
I read this story and then found that I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I had to put the book down and move away for a while to give myself time to think about the implications of what I’d read and each of the stories has been the same. I have never managed to read more than one a day because each has provided me with so much food for thought.
Take You are a Gongedip. I started out really empathising with the first person narrator.
There ought to be a word to describe the person we most wish we had never met. I won’t invent one - I shudder at the thought - but somebody should, so that we know to expect that person in our lives, even if they haven’t arrived yet. Such a word, such a concept, might help us to recognise them while there is still time to escape, before they have shattered our calm and orderly existence.
Yes, I thought. I could do with just such a word and I know precisely to whom I would apply it. I was on side with this narrator all the way. Well, for about the nest two pages, that is, during which time it gradually became apparent that if there was such a word it would best be applied to him. And if that was the case, might there not be someone out there in my life who would really like to describe me that way? Long pause for thought! If so, I just hope they don’t exact the same sort of retribution that Maria thinks up for William. As a language researcher let me tell you that it brought me out in hot sweats.
I’m not prepared to say at this point that I am now converted to the short story as a form and will forever turn my back on the full length novel. But, after reading this excellent collection I can now see where the attraction lies and I will certainly be more willing to wander down this literary avenue again - especially if Sophie Hannah can be persuaded to publish another such selection. Disturbing though I found them, they also offered considerable food for thought and will linger in my conscious for a long while to come.
  ann163125 | Apr 5, 2008 |
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Book description
Everybody has their secrets, and in Sophie Hannah's fantastic stories, the curtains positively twitch with them.

Who, for instance, is the hooded figure hiding in the bushes outside a young man's house? Why does the same stranger keep appearing in the background of a family's holiday photographs? Why does a woman stand mesmerized by two children in a school playground, children she's never met but whose names she knows well? What is the former deputy director of a literature festival doing sorting soiled laundry in a shabby hotel?

All will be revealed... but at a cost. As Sophie Hannah uncovers the dark obsessions and strange longings behind the most ordinary relationships, everyday life will never seem quite the same again.
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Who is hiding in the bushes outside a young man's house? Why does the same stranger keep appearing in the background of a family's photographs? What makes a woman stand mesmerised by two children in a school playground, children she's never met but whose names she knows well? All will be revealed in this collection of stories.… (more)

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