Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Girl Below - Bianca Zander

'I had the strangest sensation then that I had somehow left the real world behind, and had gone to a place that didn't exist.'

Suki Piper returns to her childhood home in London after an absence of twenty years, the last ten of which she has spent in New Zealand. Recognising a familiar name on the doorbell to one of the neighbouring flats, she pays a visit to the now very ill lady, Peggy, who still lives there and whom she remembers. As a girl Suki was influenced by Peggy’s children, in particular her daughter Pippa, and Suki gets back in touch with Pippa to find her struggling with the unruly behaviour of her sixteen-year-old son Caleb.

Suki feels displaced in London, not quite at home anywhere, drifting without a job, her thoughts often returning automatically, and sometimes involuntarily, to the past. She never seems to have settled into her own life, escaping it through drink and drugs, often feeling lonely and still looking for a healthy loving relationship.

It is a rather unsettling read at times, with episodes that are eerie and dreamlike; Suki recalls dark memories and experiences glimpses into her past, to a party over twenty years ago in her parents’ garden, and she is drawn again and again to the haunting recollection of events in an old underground air-raid shelter, and there is also the ornamental figure of a girl which always haunted Suki. She has the feeling that she 'was trespassing across space and time.'

The chapters alternate between her past and present, and between London, New Zealand and Skyros, and we gain a fuller picture of her unsettled life to date.

It’s a very well written debut; Suki is portrayed convincingly as a flawed and troubled narrator and I was absorbed in her world and her troubles. In many ways she isn’t a likeable character yet I had sympathy with her and I felt moved at how alone she was, often seeming very unhappy, unstable and confused, battling with life and being defeated. The novel left me thinking about Suki, wondering what might happen next in her life.

Published by Alma Books on 28 February 2013

I originally reviewed this book for We Love This Book. Thanks to them and to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this novel in advance of publication.

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