Book Review: The Girl Below

The Girl Below
The Girl Below
By: Bianca Zander
Published by William Morrow
Release Date: , 2012
Genre: women's literature
321 pages 
Buy it on Amazon, IndieBound
 or Barnes and Noble
Source: kindly provided by publisher

My thoughts: 
The Girl Below is the story of Suki Piper, who moves back to London after having lived in New Zealand for 10 years. Upon her return, she finds that London is not the same city from her memories. Having moved away from my home town only to move back to the area- twice- I though I'd be able to relate. The blurb I read hinted at paranormal stuff going on in the book; I thought, cool, I like to read some paranormal. So I started the book, anticipating a fun read.

One of the most important elements of a book that makes it a great read for me is being able to climb right inside by pretending that I'm the main character. In order to make this happen, I have to find something in common with the character, so we can become book friends. I searched as I read, but had a really difficult time connecting with the main character. Suki spends much of her adult life drinking, doing drugs, getting involved in random sexual encounters, and generally ambling along without purpose or direction. To me, she seems unwilling, or ill-equipped, to deal and heal. Her permeating despair affected my reading experience dramatically, making it so much less enjoyable than usual.

The other characters in the book were people who would be difficult to like as well. Perhaps this is evidence of skill on the part of the author; Suki is in a place in her life where she not only dislikes herself, but also sees everyone around her through a lens of disillusionment and hurt. Through her voice, it makes sense that the supporting characters would not be charming, or even particularly nice.

was looking forward to the supernatural elements of the book, but found that I was disappointed in how they played out. What starts out as a few strange recollections about her childhood remains ambiguous and unresolved, though the character makes and effort to explore them and come to terms. I found that part of the plot confusing and seemingly unfinished. I wish that Zander had written Suki's story just a little further, so I could hear her thoughts once she was on the other side of this dark period of her life; I think that would have helped me digest her paranormal trips to her past. 

I want to be clear: I do not think this book is poorly written. The writing itself, the craft of creating the main plot, works. Zander does a good job of representing this character and her viewpoint. It's possible that I may love her next read. The reading experience is a completely subjective one, dependent on the reader's readiness and willingness to go on the journey. The journey of this book didn't work for me. That is not to say that I wouldn't have loved it in my early twenties, or that I won't when I am eighty. 

I know readers who would enjoy this, but it was not spectacular for me. If you liked The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, you might like this one. 

Summary from GoodReads:
Suki Piper is a stranger in her hometown. . . .

After ten years in New Zealand, Suki returns to London, to a city that won't let her in. However, a chance visit with Peggy—an old family friend who still lives in the building where she grew up—convinces Suki that there is a way to reconnect with the life she left behind a decade earlier. But the more involved she becomes with Peggy's dysfunctional family, including Peggy's wayward sixteen-year-old grandson, the more Suki finds herself mysteriously slipping back in time—to the night of a party her parents threw in their garden more than twenty years ago, when something happened in an old, long-unused air-raid shelter. . . .

A breathtaking whirlwind of mystery, transgression, and self-discovery, Bianca Zander's The Girl Below is a haunting tale of secrets, human frailty, and dark memory that heralds the arrival of an extraordinary new literary talent.