The Other Woman's House
Sophie Hannah
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Buy *The Other Woman's House* by Sophie Hannahonline

The Other Woman's House
Sophie Hannah
Penguin Books
464 pages
June 2012
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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A businesswoman working for her husband’s technology company, Connie Bowskill lives with Kit in Silford, England, not far from her parents and her sister Fran and Fran’s partner, Anton. Destined to stay in Silford, Connie has recently grown nervous, letting her beloved Kit emotionally drift away. So far Connie has resisted Kit’s desire to move from their lovely Melrose Cottage to Kit's dream city, Cambridge, and  his dream house: 11 Bentley Grove.

Since 2003, someone or something has been plotting to demolish Kit and Connie’s well-ordered life. When Connie presses the virtual tour button of a local real estate website late one night, she is hardly able to comprehend the scene before her. Her world turned inside-out, Connie barely has enough time to assimilate the enormity of this indecency before she's drawn into a paranoid morass which she has no skills to navigate.

As Connie’s fractured mental state unfolds in the first-person, we learn she’s been seeing a local homeopath who thinks her issues are a physical manifestation of emotional stress: “the strong likelihood is that you were tired and had some sort of transitory hallucination.” But Connie’s desire to get to the truth leads her to confide in Simon Waterhouse’s colleague Sam Kombothekra. Positive Kit is conspiring to hide something from him, Sam is at first circumspect of Connie's strange story, yet he can't escape the feeling that something is going badly wrong in Melrose Cottage.

All Connie has is a truth-seeking energy that counteracts the recurring panic which descends every early morning like clockwork, leading her to Cambridge every Friday. There she follows the movements of Selina Gane, the current owner of 11 Bentley Grove. Unable to assimilate Kit’s unhappiness and incomprehension, Connie becomes certain her husband is leading a double life. As Connie’s story unfolds in a series of ego-boosting delusions and disappointments, she begins to realize that perhaps Kit wanted to plant in her mind the fear that she might have committed a murder of which she now has no memory.

The first half of the novel delivers one tremendous jolt high on the shock Richter scale but then flattens out to a pretty straightforward police procedural closely resembling La Plante’s Prime Suspect series. There a sense of blame that it’s Connie’s own fault for giving into her paranoia. When Simon Waterhouse and his wife, Charlie, return from holiday, Simon takes over, the case unfolding in a series of tense confrontations and revelations. Simon, Charlie, Sam, and DC Chris Gibbs must gradually piece together the random facts and obvious distortions begun when Kit visited Cambridge in 2003.

The story’s pacing is sometimes tedious but forms the context of Connie‘s shattered inner life. At first, it feels as though we are running through a series of perilous rapids, Hannah’s characters are forced to test themselves against a rushing maelstrom of duplicity. Throughout, Simon is guarded and intelligent, Sam kind and modest. Angry, frightened Selina Gane and sanctimonious Cambridge Realtor Jackie Napier remind us of the vagaries of selfish intentions. Everything turns full tilt on its axis when Connie stumbles, finally realizing she is no longer willing to run from the past or the truth.

While there is a certain expectation of how the book will end, Hannah deftly choreographs the action, leaving us feeling drained and grieved after reading the final pages. Still, she creates in Connie a volatile, believable protagonist whose desperate psychological disintegration is so severe that she may never find an end to her obsessive, violent nightmare.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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