The Girl on the Stairs is Louise Welsh’s latest book. It’s a book that once I started reading it I just had to finish it. It’s full of suspense and increasing tension as Jane moves to an apartment in Berlin to join her partner, Petra. Everything is new to her, she only speaks a little German, she doesn’t know the area and has no friends there. And she’s pregnant.
It begins slowly and calmly, with Jane alone in the flat. Whilst Petra is out at work, she explores the neighbourhood, the streets, the church and the forbidding, derelict building (the backhouse) that overlooks their apartment building at the back.
She meets some of the other residents of the apartment building, their neighbour Dr Mann and his daughter Anna – the girl on the stairs. She hears them arguing and fears Dr Mann is abusing Anna. She ventures out at 3.00am one dark morning drawn by a flickering light in the backhouse, worried that Anna was hiding in there:
Jane looked up towards the looming bulk of the backhouse, hearing the sound of her own breath, shallow and uneven. the light was gone from the window. This was her cue to turn back, but she stepped on, into the dimness of the courtyard, tensing against the cold and the sensation of unseen eyes. The backhouse door gaped; beyond it, nothing but blackness. (page 55)
Then there are the Beckers, who live in the ground-floor flat. Heike Becker is suffering from dementia and insists that Dr Mann had killed his wife and buried her beneath the floorboards in the backhouse.
Jane’s suspicions about her neighbours grow, and her sense of isolation mounts when Petra has to go to Vienna for a week for her work. The book is narrated by Jane, which means that there is only Jane’s perspective on events and as more secrets are revealed I began to wonder just how paranoid Jane was and how much was down to her imagination. Jane tries to befriend Anna, who regards her with suspicion and contempt – are Jane’s fears justified or is she delusional? The uncertainties and ambiguities kept me guessing to the end.
The Girl on the Stairs is a dark, psychological thriller, full of atmosphere and claustrophobic tension. I really enjoyed it.
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: John Murray (2 Aug 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1848546483
- ISBN-13: 978-1848546486
- Source: Review copy from the publishers
- My rating: 4.5/5