The Girl on the Stairs
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.
Louise Welsh, the acclaimed author of The Cutting Room, delivers another masterful suspense novel. The Girl on the Stairs is a powerful psychological thriller packed with twists and turns to keep you reading well into the night. Read it, or be left in the dark.
I was extremely pleased to receive this novel as although I have never read anything by Louise Welsh before I’ve heard good things, and it’s also set in Berlin which is one of my favourite places in the whole world. I have also rarely read anything set in modern Berlin so was particularly looking forward to seeing how the author portrayed it from the perspective of an isolated, pregnant Scottish woman.
This novel broods from beginning to end; the characters are all kept at arm’s length which makes the conclusion even more climactic and shocking. The story centres around and is told from the point of view of Jane, a pregnant Scottish woman who has given up her life in London to live with her partner Petra and bring up their first child, when they’re born. Understanding only very basic German and with no plans for her new life, Jane is clearly moving herself into a difficult position. She has high hopes of falling comfortably into domestic life but it just isn’t to be and she finds herself drawn to her young and seemingly vulnerable neighbour Anna.
Welsh paints a picture of paranoia which could be entirely plausible, with Jane asking herself all manner of questions from whether Anna is being abused by her father to whether he is in fact a murderer, hence Anna’s mother not being present. The further the plot develops it becomes difficult to differentiate from reality and what Jane sees and whether the two are the same. By the time the novel reaches its climax with drastic outcomes for some of the characters, we’re left not knowing whether Jane is doing the right thing or completely obsessive and paranoid.
The setting is stunning. It was everything I hoped and more, despite getting very little of the cosmopolitan, modern Berlin that I’m aware of, Jane’s small Gothic corner of the city is drawn in perfect detail. Every ominous feature from the local graveyard to the backhouse described in such detail that it isn’t hard to slip into Jane’s mind set and become convinced something is definitely awry.
Welsh is an expert storyteller who held my interest up until the very last sentence, which in itself left me wondering if anything I thought about the novel was actually true. For a dark and sinister read, The Girl on the Stairs is a brilliant choice.
Thanks to Ben at The Eleven for sending me this book to review.