on 2 March 2009
This is a tale of creeping menace, combining a chilling portrait of a couple's passionless marriage with a good old fashioned ghost story. Torday evokes the Scottish highlands with particular skill. The hills and dark woods surrounding Micheal's estate are filled with strange winds and voices. Nothing is quite what it seems.
At a time when so many writers are busy experimenting with form and technique, it is a joy to read a book that focuses so resolutely on great storytelling. Torday is a writer of literary fiction who is also a pleasure to read.
That's not to say the book doesn't have depth or intrigue. The book's eerie tone is reminiscent of 'The Turn of the Screw' or even Robert Browning's terrifying tale 'My Last Duchess.'
Curl up on a dark night, light a flickering candle and prepare for a treat!
Decent novel for those who enjoy a spooky ghost story with plenty of atmosphere and clever psychological twists.
The plot is complicated, slow to take off and never easy to guess. After a prolonged introduction to the two key characters, a married couple who have settled for what they can get rather than reached for what they want, the story takes off and becomes a rather punchy, dark ghost story with plenty of mystery. There's something happening all of the time to throw you off track. Just when you think you've got a handle of what's happening the author throws in another clue, a different angle, and makes you think again.
The hero of the story is a wealthy man complete with house in the country and membership of a private club in London. There's a lot of hunting, dinner parties and Land Rovers. He's obviously mixed up about a great many things, not the least of which is the strange disappearance of his father years ago, but once he experiences the first in a string of weird events the mystery begins. There's a nice play on the theme of reality v insanity or; is it really down to the supernatural after all?.
'The Girl on the Landing' is melodramatic and brooding. The story runs true to traditional ghost stories from the past in that it's more about building the story than it is about providing shocks. There's much here you'll recognise if you're a fan of supernatural fiction; dilapidated old house in the middle of nowhere, a disappearance, a marriage in trouble and hints of insanity. Paul Torday brings those themes up-to-date while paying obvious homage to much of what has gone before; Rebecca, Turn of the Screw and so forth.
I wouldn't say 'The Girl on the Landing' is scary, at least it wasn't for me, but what the novel has is a slowly building, dark atmosphere and a strong story-line which I found engaging. Didn't put me on the edge of my seat but certainly made me feel uncomfortable.
on 13 April 2009
Having enjoyed Torday's first novel and been slightly disappointed with his second, this third offering is back on form. It is a gripping story, with a dual narrative perspective, combining a fascinating mix of mythology with the Lamia story ( you may remember Keats' femme fatale) interwoven with mental illness, the emotional climate becoming more tense as the plot develops.
The novel starts off in a rather dry and prosaic manner, charting the dull marriage of two apparently unsuitable people, where everything is predictable and yet the reader can see the humour in the situation.However, in an approach reminiscent of Henry James''The Turn of the Screw', the tension builds up to its nail biting climax, leaving the reader with unanswered questions in true macabre fashion. Effectively written and crafted, I thoroughly recommend this to those who enjoy a good yarn, and who also consider 'what is psychological truth'.
This is a well-written modern take on the gothic/supernatural genre, updated with some important things to say about modern ideas of psychosis, identity and our dependency on drugs to recreate a state of so-called mental `normality'.
Torday flips effortlessly between eerie scenes of possibly haunted paintings and possession drawing on classic ghostly tales by writers like M.R. James; but gives it a The Turn of the Screw spin that leaves us constantly unsure about what is `real' and what is in the mind of Michael.
The beginning, especially, has some very chilling moments that had me reading this with all the lights switched on, and I liked the way the book subtly transforms itself into something different. The tale maintains its enigmatic air right to the end and never resolves itself in any easy manner.
Beautifully plotted, written and imagined, this had me utterly absorbed.
I found this book an enjoyable and easily readable book, although the twists and ending were a little predictable. The story concerns the rather staid husband and wife relationship of a reasonably wealthy man, who shares his time between a job as the membership secretary of a London gentleman's club and his rather run-down shooting estate in Scotland, and his wife who dislikes the club environment, most of the members and the Scottish lodge. Not exactly the ingredients for a lively relationship. However, the husband's secret past comes back to haunt them both, and the book culminates in a climax set in Scotland. I can't really say much more about the plot to prevent spoiling, although it is rather predicatble. There is some attempt at supernatural ambiguity woven in, presumably to add interest and keep the reader guessing, but this isn't really too convincing for me. The book explores relationships, mental health, and the extent to which two people can ever really know each other. The book is written in the first person, but with alternating scenes and chapters where the husband and wife are narrating.
Enjoyable, easy reading although not difficult to see where it is all going.
on 25 July 2015
This story is about letting go, returning to a more wild state, a place before nations and nationalities a place where legends, sensual, sexual passions and the true savage live, a place where you follow your instincts till you howl at the moon. Commune with the goddess and hunt animal all animals, till you disappear into the primordial forest in your mind.
A marriage of convenience between two strangers, and old fashion life where modernity is intruding into the set British ways of doing things, old gentleman's clubs, fishing trips, boring social dinners, a boring boring life, where Michael unbenounced to everyone has began a plan of escape, transformation into a past where there were only primordial men and forests. The first glimmer is a girl in a painting, followed by her ever growing reality that awakens in him a surprising Michael, that sparks passion in his wife, even love, controversy in social circles and a dislocation of reality, that seeps like blood into every cranny.
Very well written, full of atmosphere and contradictory feelings for the reader, the characters are well written and the settings feel real and full of life. Avery different thriller that is not about capture but scape and there is where this book will have some detractors, it is not conclusive but open ended and even allegorical in its ending like the feelings it awakens in Michael; that like his namesake is a fallen angel of sorts.
on 13 August 2015
“Serendipozan is one of the new generation of neuroleptics. While we must concede that extrapyramidal symptoms (e.g. acute Parkinsonism) and neuroleptic malignant symptoms (sometimes resulting in mortality) have been observed in control groups, we believe that these occurrences are statistically insignificant. This must be balanced against clear evidence of the effectiveness of Serendipozan and the significant improvement it can give to the quality of patients’ lives, allowing in many cases for them to live within their own communities without the need for medical supervision.. Dr Hans Bueler, Tertius Corporation AG, International Symposium on Clinical Psychiatric Medication, Basle 2002”
Paul Torday's novel switches protagonists neatly between Michael Gascoigne and his wife Elizabeth, both in their thirties, the story is told in both their first persons. Michael, an orphan, and owner by inheritance of the Scottish highlands estate Ben Carroun, doesn’t need to work. He spends much of his time down in London where he leads an affluent if non-descript existence. The dusty, time-capsule encased, politically incorrect gentlemen’s Groucher club in Mayfair is the beginning and end of his social life, bounded neatly by golf, card games, stalking, and the petty internal squabblings of the club committee. And his personality reflects his existence. Dull and predictable.
Elizabeth has been married to him for 10 years. An unremarkable marriage, largely devoid of passion. “I’m making it sound as though we had an unhappy marriage. That’s not true. It was what my mother used to call a ‘workable’ marriage.” An unremarkable job on a woman’s magazine, which she didn’t really need to keep once she got married.
Slowly however, things start to change. The “Girl on the Landing”makes her first appearance in a painting. Michael and Elizabeth are staying with friends at a country house in Ireland, where Michael is captivated by a painting he sees on the staircase.
“The painting was of an interior that showed a shadowed landing...The foreground of the painting was drawn with great attention to detail...The farther into the background the artist went, however, the less he appeared to care about the detail. The female figure was merely sketched in and she was dark, so dark one could make out only the merest suggestion of a face...” Several chance encounters ensue between Michael and a strange and beautiful young girl. On train journey. In a restaurant. At the estate. She calls herself The Lamia, and Michael starts to opens up to her about his past.
“‘She seemed at once, some penance lady elf, Some demon’s mistress, or the demon’s self’ Lamia, by Keats.”
Elizabeth starts to worry as Michael’s personality starts to change. He is becoming increasingly dishevelled, unpredictable, elusive, and aggressive, not to mention amorous. She is at once more attracted to him (he is now “Mikey”, not Michael), yet disturbed by him. One evening at the estate they are hosting Peter Robinson and David Martin, friends of his, and fellow Groucher members, when he delivers a completely unexpected monologue. The conversation has turned to the candidacy of Vijay Patel, a successful second generation British banker of Ugandan Asian origin, whom Peter has proposed for membership at the Groucher. The club is deeply divided as he is the first “black man” they would be letting in. Over dinner David makes some off-colour remarks about Patel’s (un)suitability, and Michael launches into a tirade about the origins of British identity. But what a tirade. It is clinical in its exposition of a hypothetical woman cave dweller in the post Younger Dryas ice age period making treks across to Britain from the Pyrenees, some time in the Mesolithic area. Yes, the Anglo-Saxons and Celts and Vikings came after, but it made little difference to the DNA of the inhabitants of the British Isles. And not only is the content shocking for being so out of character, it is the primordial venom with which he delivers it that unnerves his wife.
As Michael’s unpredictability worsens, we start to understand why a violent conclusion to this story is the only possible outcome.
Some nice touches in here, including a cameo appearance by Charlie Summers, down-on-his luck charmer and purveyor of luxury dog food. Charlie will be known to Torday regulars as the tragi-comic subject of another of his novels The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers.
on 27 April 2013
I've never read a Paul Torday book before this one, but I've already added his oeuvre to my Wish List.
The title of this book caught my eye as I was purchasing my Kindle in Waterstone's, there was an offer on a number of books at the counter, so I read the back of the book and once home downloaded it, I was not disappointed!
I tend to be attracted to books that have a supernatural theme and 'The Girl On The Landing' is definitely one of these. I love also the way Torday writes, there is a sparcity in his style yet it still remains descriptive without the reader becoming lost in the narrative.
At the beginning of this book I didn't realise the characters of Michael and Elizabeth were as young as they are intended to be, such is the state of their marriage I believed them initially to be in their mid-fifties, until the story develops.
I would recommend this book to my Book Club and anyone who enjoys a book that has a mysterious, other-world feel; I enjoyed this sitting in my living room with an open fire and the wind blowing outside, it really added to the atmosphere, especially those parts of it which took place in Glen Gala.
on 23 January 2013
This book had me hooked from the first page and the writing is, in my opinion, excellent. I raced through The Girl On The Landing to find out what happens and the ending did not disappoint but I found myself pondering on aspects of the storyline that for me stretch credulity. Also the mental condition that the central character suffers from is difficult to pinpoint and is another aspect that jars,(with me)and seems unrealistic. Yes I know it's a novel but I still want to read something that I can more or less find believable. None the less a terrific read.
on 4 May 2009
I thoroughly enjoyed Paul Torday's first novel "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" and therefore looked forward to reading "The Girl on the Landing." I found the characters and setting to be immersive - I found myself just pulled into this world of a British upper-crust couple who are sleep-walking through life until something truly unexpected happens. Without giving the plot away, I will say that the novel surprised me, and left me racing to get to the end, only to be scratching my head and wondering what exactly happened (in a good way). I'm glad that Paul Torday took up writing in his 60s (rather than not at all). He has a fresh, unique style and fascinating characters.