The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday

I read about The Girl on the Landing in newbooks magazine, along with the first chapter. It caught my attention, although I wondered if I wanted to read about mental illness. I needn’t have worried, as I was soon involved in the story – there was something very sinister going on.

Michael and Elizabeth Gascoigne are the narrators of the story and the question that puzzled me was, just how reliable are their accounts. It soon becomes obvious that it is Michael who is the problem. It begins when Michael and Elizabeth visit a friend’s country house and he spots a painting of a landing with a woman clad in a green dress in the background – except that there is no woman in the painting. Despite his outward calm and reliability he is mentally ill – hearing voices and seeing people who aren’t there – or are they? I began to wonder if they were real after all. Such was the effect this book had on me.  When he stops taking the drug their marriage takes on a new character, taking Elizabeth quite by surprise, initially liking it, but soon scaring her.

The location is split between Michael’s luxury London flat and his large country estate in Scotland. In London he is the part-time membership secretary of Grouchers, an exclusive gentlemen’s club. Here he is faced with a difficult situation when Mr Patel, a Ugandan Asian applies for membership, raising questions about the nature of Britishness and Englishness, identity and personality – all quite disturbing for Michael and the other members. Michael describes Grouchers as

… a fantasy world, where perfectly normal middle-aged, middle-class men were transformed for a few hours by a collective mania into behaving and speaking as if they were inhabiting some last outpost of the British Empire in the 1950s.

In contrast to life in London, is the Gascoignes’ life in Scotland, in the dank and gloomy house Michael inherited from his parents – Beinn Caorunn. Elizabeth hates the place and rarely goes there, but Michael loves it; it is the place where he feels “connected to the world again”. But  Michael has secrets and as the novel progresses the nature of these secrets are gradually revealed, building a sense of mystery and foreboding. Just who is the woman in the green dress, the Lamia and what did happen to Michael’s parents? As Michael says:

None of us knows who we really are.

The tension builds and I just had to finish the book, but I thought the ending was an anti-climax as Elizabeth takes over the narrative and we are left dangling. Just what did happen … ? But I couldn’t really imagine how else it could end and it was a very enjoyable book.

4 thoughts on “The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday

  1. I was well on the way to ordering this from the library until I reached your last comments. There seems to be a plethora of books around at the moment that just don’t get the ending right. Is this worth reading despite that? I have a feeling it might put me back on my where have all the editors gone soap-box and I’ve climbed up there so often it must be in danger of giving way!


  2. Ann, I’m not sure what to say. It’s not one of those books where all the ends are tied off, but sometimes I think that’s too neat and can be contrived. To some extent I think the book would have satisfied me more without the Epilogue – where Elizabeth looks back over what happened and speculates. All I can say is that even with this ending I’m glad I read it – but you may think differently. Have I waffled on enough?


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