THE GIRL ON THE STAIRS - Louise Welsh
One of the things that makes Louise Welsh one of my favourite authors is the way you just never know what to expect when a new novel arrives.
In THE GIRL ON THE STAIRS Jane Logan moves to Berlin to be with her partner Petra, in the lead up to the birth of their first child. From the moment she arrives there's something wrong. Jane is uneasy in their chic, upmarket apartment, where amongst lots of other oddities, there are shadows on the stairs and a neighbour's daughter who Jane is sure is in danger.
A psychological mystery, the book is chilling and discomforting. There's something about the fears that Jane develops that don't quite ring true. Of course the world is seen through Jane's eyes, so small events are major and Jane is extremely isolated. By the move to a foreign country, by her partner's work commitments which seem to keep her distant and in an apartment, and neighbourhood that also somehow seems isolated and claustrophobic. Yet, at the same time, the reader can't help but wonder, is Petra really so distant, are things quite that gothic, and dark, is there really something behind Anna, the next door neighbour's daughter hostility, or is Jane imagining things.
As this doubt started to grow there were points where loyalties were compromised. We're supposed to be seeing things from Jane's point of view, yet somehow, Jane doesn't seem to be getting it, is possibly constructing mountains out of molehills. Is she the classic unreliable narrator?
The concentration on the book is very much on a woman whose mind may be playing tricks on her. The physical setting of Berlin contributes little to the narrative other than a feeling of the other, "somewhere foreign", providing isolation. Her pregnancy, her partner's pre-occupation outside the home, all provide a vehicle for pulling the focus back to Jane, back into Jane's head, back into Jane's overwhelming imagination.
As I'd expect from this author, I'd no idea how THE GIRL ON THE STAIRS would evolve when I started it, and it did take quite a while to twig what was going on. I didn't particularly warm to Jane, found her viewpoint unsympathetic and a bit offputting. The introspection was uncomfortable, the isolation palpable. Despite all that, there was something very compelling about the story that dragged me into it. Right to the sort of ending that I love - subtle, unexpected, unsettling, challenging.
Jane Logan is a stranger to Berlin and she finds the city alive and echoing with the ghosts of its turbulent past. At six months pregnant, she's instructed by her partner Petra to rest and enjoy her new life in Germany. But while Petra is out at work, Jane begins to feel uneasy in their chic apartment. Screams reverberate through the walls, lights flicker in the derelict building that looms over the yard, a shadow passes on the stairs...Jane meets a neighbour's daughter, a girl whose life she tries to mend, but her involvement only further isolates her. Alone and haunted, Jane fears the worst...but the worst is yet to come.