Monday, 15 August 2011

A Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah

A Room Swept WhiteA Room Swept White by Sophie Hannah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a novel which despite being a work of fiction reminded me of significant real events in the recent past.

The story runs two parallel threads, one which sees TV producer Fliss Benson rising to the post of director of the company she works for, and at the same time landing her boss' job directing a documentary about women accused of killing their babies; the other thread following the story of some of the accused women and their families.

Felicity's boss, Laurie Nattrass, who was heavily involved in campaigning for the innocence of these women and even founded an organisation to this aim, has suddenly decided to move on to another company and leave Fliss in charge. As she starts work on the documentary, she gets to know more some of the people involved: the women, their husbands, and the paediatrician Judith Duffy who as expert witness in many of these trials seems to bear most of the responsibility for sending these women to jail.

With the second murder of one of the women it becomes clear that the two deaths are linked and Fliss also starts feeling in danger. Her work on the documentary, which she is determined to finish, will uncover strange and dark aspects of the personality of some characters as well as the culprit behind the murders.

I enjoyed the book and its “dizzingly complicated” plot and although I was expecting a different type of psychological tension I enjoyed the moral and psychological dilemmas which are more than touched upon in the book: miscarriages of justice, reliability of eye witnesses and expert witnesses, and the trauma of an innocent person not only losing a loved one but being accused of a heinous crime.

However, I found Fliss highly irritating despite the fact that she redeems herself in the end, and in common with another reviewer I was annoyed at the apparent recognition given to a scientifically discredited theory about vaccines. I did enjoy the very deep psychological insight into many characters as well as the writing style, which seems to be easily spanning between a Bridget-Jones-like single thirty-something, and a scientific report on causes of cot death. Sophie Hannah seems to be at ease with either style. Fliss’ occasional very funny comments contributed to lightening the mood from a very thoughtful topic.

The police characters are very much in the background, almost sketched, and the story isn’t as much about the investigation but it is told in the majority by the characters themselves: I found this aspect quite refreshing.

I will certainly read more of Sophie Hannah's books.

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