Sunday, 7 October 2012

"The Girl on the Stairs," by Louise Welsh

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

Earlier this year, I posted a picture of my pile of review books.  My intention was to catch up on these.  I have been incredibly bad at this, and my pile has grown rather than diminished.  So, when my husband was away for a couple of nights, I decided to read a book from my review pile.

In "The Girl on the Stairs," pregnant Jane moves to Berlin to live with her girlfriend, Petra.  Petra has a demanding job, and Jane is often left alone in an unfamiliar city where she barely speaks the language.  Jane, in her isolation, becomes obsessed with a teenage girl in a red coat who she meets on the stairs, believing - having heard violent arguments from the apartment next door - that the girl is being abused by her father. 

This is Louise Welsh's fifth novel, but the first of hers that I have read.  It's a compact book - about 270 pages, when most of the books I read are nudging 400 - and very economically written.  It's a novel that is driven by character and plot, and her writing style powers this along without a great deal of extraneous detail and description.

The central character of Jane is very effectively written, and the story unfolds through her experiences and perceptions.  If this were made into a film, the actress playing Jane would be in every scene.  Jane is anxious and uncomfortable in her own skin, especially now that she is sharing it with someone else.  She still smokes - continually flirting with giving up - doesn't eat properly and puts herself in danger; at one point she thinks "only a fool would put their unborn in danger," before going on to do exactly that.  Jane is an interestingly ambiguous and flawed character - a classic unreliable narrator -  and Louise Welsh raises more questions about her past than she answers.  This would normally annoy me - I normally like answers rather than unsatisfying loose ends - but Welsh does it well enough and sparingly enough for me to not find this irritating.

"The Girl on the Stairs" gathers momentum towards a great Roald Dahl-y denouement (meaning it has an unsettling "Tales of the Unexpected" feel, and not that they end up in a chocolate factory).  It is a quick read - it took me two evenings - and I enjoyed it as a good psychological thriller in a domestic setting.  I'm trying to be ruthless and, when I have finished books, I'm taking them into work for our swap shelf - however, this is one that I enjoyed so much that I am considering keeping it to reread in the future.


  1. I read Welsh's Tamburlaine Must Die quite a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It was also quite compact, very tightly written. I am intrigued by this one, and will keep an eye out for it, adding it to my list.

  2. The sounds great, and the ending sounds intriguing - it's going on my Goodreads TBR list right now!

  3. Thanks for mentioning Tamburlaine Must Die, Arabella, which I will keep an eye out for as it sounds interesting. I have just realised as well that she wrote a book called Naming the Bones which I heard about a while ago, thought it sounded interesting, and then never got around to reading it. That happens depressingly frequently.

    I'm glad you like the sound of it, Annalisa. I did read a review by someone who thought that the ending was overblown and didn't buy into it, but I was prepared to go with it.