Title: The Girl Below
Author: Bianca Zander
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Suki Piper has returned to London after living for the last ten years in New Zealand. She left the UK after her mother’s death, and it’s only now that she’s able to return and face the painful past. Unsure of where to go or what to do, Suki makes contact with a woman named Peggy, who still lives in the building Suki and her parents did when she was young. As she remembers the past, Suki begins to question what really happened one night when her parents threw a garden party that would change everything.
What happens when a book is well-written but you have absolutely no sympathy for the main character? That’s the dilemma that The Girl Below presents. Zander writes a twisted, complicated novel in which the lines between the real world and the paranormal are blurred. As the novel progresses, things jump back and forth and it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s imagined. It’s well done and an interesting way to approach a novel, especially considering it’s not what most readers would expect when picking up this book.
That being said, Suki makes The Girl Below quite the difficult read, and I’m not sure that isn’t deliberate on Zander’s part. It seems as though she intentionally wrote a difficult, miserable character, though it’s difficult to discern why that’s the case. Suki is, at best, an unrepentant mooch who has no desire to improve her life, and instead merely complains and waits for others to fix things she is responsible for. She’s paralyzed by her past, by what has come before, but it’s difficult to excuse her for that.
But all of this makes Suki a deliciously unreliable narrator. You can’t bring yourself to trust her; her choices range from tasteless to appalling, though she tries to present herself in the best light possible. While it’s fun to question her, to wonder whether she’s telling you the truth and how reliable her memory is, it’s just very difficult to read about her.
And, to be honest, many readers will be disappointed by the vague ending. The Girl Below is not a book that ties things up with a neat little bow. It leaves some questions unanswered and at times it’s difficult to understand. It’s interesting, to be sure, but hard to follow. All in all, it’s not easy to write a review of this book because it’s so all over the place. It’s an interesting literary experiment and Zander did a great job with it, but the main character just makes it difficult to read.