THE GIRL ON THE STAIRS

Written by Louise Welsh

Review written by Pippa McAllister


THE GIRL ON THE STAIRS
John Murray
RRP: £16.99
Released: 2nd August 2012
Hbk

Jane, six months pregnant, arrives in Berlin to live with Petra, her "liebenspartner". For Jane, the move to Berlin and impending motherhood signify a complete change to her life. It is a change she welcomes but there are moments when she feels isolated, not helped by her lack of fluency in German. The apartment has been chosen and furnished by Petra, with Jane only able to view it on the internet and Jane begins to wish that she hadn't quite so readily signed everything that Petra had put in front of her.

Sleeping badly, Jane hears a row in the next apartment, occupied by Dr Alban Mann and his daughter Anna; she becomes obsessed with Anna, and is convinced that her father is abusing her. Jane's attempts to talk to the girl are clumsy and result in alienating Anna who insists she does not need help.

With Petra at work during the day and then on a business trip to Vienna, Jane has time to explore her surroundings and prepare for the birth of their child but rather than checking on facilities for children she keeps a look out for Anna. She also becomes fascinated by the mysterious, dilapidated "backhouse" which is overlooked by the window of the room designated for the nursery; this interest is heightened during the night when she can't sleep and she sees lights flickering on the second floor.

Anna's missing mother becomes something of an obsession for Jane. Dr Mann explains that she left, telling Jane that she had been a prostitute and found family life too dull. One elderly neighbour, Frau Becker, who lives in the ground floor flat keeps saying she is buried in the backhouse. Her mind deteriorating, Frau Becker drifts from present clarity to the past and, despite her husband's attempts to emphasize her dementia, her comments give more fuel to Jane's imagination.

I found Jane to be an irritating character, obsessive, foolhardy, blundering in without subtlety, with total belief in her own convictions and giving no thought to the consequences of her actions.

The newly renovated apartment building that Jane and Petra live in with its gleaming stucco but cracking paint in the stairwell, the eerie backhouse, the churchyard with its ivy clad railings give a cold, dark feel to the book. The feeling extends to the characters the most likeable of whom are Petra's twin brother Tielo and his wife Ute, who have a warmth that is not apparent in others.

A relatively short, sparse psychological thriller, with a twist at the end.

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