Monday, July 2, 2012

The Girl Below

The Girl Below, by Bianca Zander.

Mistaking me for Hillary meant Peggy didn't know, or had forgotten, that my mother was no longer alive. When people forgot I often couldn't bring myself to correct them. Sometimes they started reminiscing about Hillary's beauty, the way she'd lit up a room with her grace, or her legendary abilities to sew and cook, and by the time they asked the appalling but inevitable question, "How is she, your dear mother, Hillary?" the weight of their admiration bore down upon me so hard I told them what they wanted to hear. "She moved to Scotland to look after Grandma," I'd explained to one old acquaintance, telling another that she'd gone to India in the midnineties to find herself and was still there on an ashram. Lousy fibs but much kinder on us all. Everyone had loved my mother - no one more so than I - and if I never said out loud that she'd died, then I sometimes believed that she hadn't.

Suki is a complicated narrator, and this novel was incredibly detailed; therefore, don't expect it to be a quick read. She's also an unreliable narrator, or so we think - she's either going crazy or really seeing apparitions and is able to time travel. Yet, the novel doesn't fully revolve around that, and it makes up a small part of what is the story of Suki's life.

Suki Piper fled to New Zealand from London ten years ago, in 1993, after her mother died from cancer. Her father had started a new family with another woman many years before, and he happens to live in New Zealand. Now, in 2003, she has decided to return to London, only to find that the friends she has left there aren't really her friends anymore, and the city as a whole has changed drastically. She goes to her old apartment building to visit Peggy, an older lady who used to live upstairs from them, and Peggy is in declining health. Her daughter Pippa offers Suki a job to stay in the apartment and care for Peggy, and since Suki has no other living options she accepts. This re-starts Suki's relationship with the family, as well as with Pippa's family - her husband Ari and 16-year-old son Caleb - and she soon finds herself more attached than she thought she would be.

The novel jumps back and forth between 2003 London and Suki's history, starting in 1981 London and continuing through her move to New Zealand. Suki remembers an epic party that her parents threw in 1981, and it is that party that she visualizes when she finds herself in the garden as it was then, late one night. There was a bunker there that night that her father decided they should investigate, and she almost died there, which was a traumatic experience for her. It is this night that Suki is able to "time travel" to, even when she travels with Pippa's family to Greece as Peggy becomes unwell.

Suki's story is definitely interesting; one of the other characters comments at one point that Suki has had a "hard life" but should now try living more for the present. Because the novel is so incredibly detailed, it took me a while to get through it, but overall the novel is worth reading because of this. In the Q&A with the author in the back of the book, the author was asked if she could see this being a movie, and I think it would definitely be a great movie - it spans many years, so a lot of actors and sets would be involved, but if the script stuck to the book it could be something spectacular.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.


  1. Oooh, sounds like an interesting read. I'll add it to my TBR list.

  2. Be aware that it's not a "fast" read but it was definitely interesting. :)

  3. I like books that take their time telling their stories (and for the same reason, incidentally, French movies). Where I have a problem is when they're just wasting my time, with characters not doing anything or the story not really going anywhere. Otherwise, I'm good with slow and steady :)

  4. It sounds fascinating. I might have to check it out.

  5. You should - it was a decent read.


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