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The Girl On The Landing - Paul Torday

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Genre: Horror / Author: Paul Torday / Paperback / 320 Pages / Book is published 2009-09-03 by Phoenix

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      30.06.2013 17:53
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      A story that investigates mental illness and the truth about those things that are driving us crazy

      Reading Paul Torday's novel "The Girl on the Landing" makes one want to paraphrase Joseph Heller's quote from "Catch 22" to read: "Just because you're [being treated for] paranoid[schizophrenia], doesn't mean they aren't really after you". The story here is about Michael and his wife, Elizabeth. They've been married for ten years and have a relationship that is best described as "they get along well together." That is, until a strange incident in Ireland when Michael sees a girl on the landing of the house they're staying at. Soon after that, Michael seems to change - he's suddenly become more affectionate and loving. This makes Elizabeth ignore his slightly erratic behavior. But just when it seems that Elizabeth is finally finding the man she always hoped for, their whole lives begin to fall apart.

      This story is actually part mystery and part fantasy. The mystery comes in when Elizabeth begins to see the changes in Michael. Despite her wanting to just enjoy it, she realizes that it isn't all rosy and begins investigating what is the cause behind the change. The fantasy part is Michael's visions and his being tortured by them. Then we find that Michael suddenly stopped taking medication that Elizabeth wasn't even aware he was taking. So there is a medical background to Michael's changed behavior. Even so, Torday seems to suggest that perhaps Michael isn't crazy at all, and what he's going through is something very real. As we toggle between their two stories, we slowly become acquainted with them, together with the intensifying situation. In this way, Torday melds the plot together with the characters so that they seem to drive the story forward with almost equal power. This is because Michael's almost Jekyll and Hyde situation makes the character himself become part of the plot. Of course, adding to this is Elizabeth and how all this effects her and her world.

      What the reader will find with Torday's work, and in particular this novel, is that he truly knows how to get to the heart of a story quickly and then pull his readers in. This not only makes them very fast reads, but fascinating ones as well. In fact, you might get so involved with this story that you'll hardly notice the 300 plus pages going by, since it's so jam-packed with action. What's more is that Torday does it in such an easy-going and comfortable language. Since this novel is two different accounts of the same story as told by this couple in an almost diary entry form, it isn't hard to imagine that the tone of the writing is very conversational. The primary reason for using this method is to keep from using descriptive passages that sound dead and boring, since you are basically reading the narrator's thoughts straight his or her head.

      Fans of Torday's who have read his first novel "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" will know of his ability to find an absurd situation, bring in a good dramatic climax while keeping the reader smiling. However, this novel has little to no humor in it at all. In fact, it is very dark which makes it almost difficult to believe that these two novels were written by the same person. However, there is one similarity in these two stories. That is, the inclusion of something which one can't say couldn't actually be realistic, even though it does seem highly unlikely. In the case of this story, while it is highly unlikely that Michael is having anything more than hallucinations, can one discount the evidence that there might be something real behind it all. The answering of that question is the last element Torday has used to truly capture the reader.

      After all this praise, one must come to the ever-present "however..." section. The most major drawback has to do with Elizabeth. In this day and age, it seems unusual that any woman would "settle" for someone that she knew she didn't love in order to have financial stability and comfortable companionship. This would seem especially true for someone as attractive and intelligent as Elizabeth.

      Furthermore, since Elizabeth is a career woman, it isn't like she had to be gold-digger. So this marriage seems a bit more Jane Austin-like than 21st century. However, Torday does allow that Elizabeth was initially attracted to Michael when they first met - and not to his money. Still, was this enough to make this something the reader can accept, and more importantly, is it okay for a character's back story to be only "possibly realistic, despite being unlikely"? Perhaps, in this case it was somewhat necessary. Still, it might have been more realistic and far more likely had Elizabeth really loved him to begin with. This also would have made her frustration in the marriage more understandable, as well as her reluctance to figure out why he was changing. This made Elizabeth less of a sympathetic character than she could have been.

      The other problem is that Michael seems a bit less fleshed out than he should be. Seeing as everything in the story revolves around his personality change, he could have had a bit more focus. One can only think that either Torday thought it would be better to keep him clouded in mystery as much as possible, or that he wasn't sure how to chronicle the thoughts of a man as he takes steps he knows might drive him crazy.

      All told, Paul Torday's novel "The Girl on the Landing" is a well crafted novel that will appeal to a large audience. While the characters are on the quirky side, they are interesting, although they seem to lack in certain places. However, the plot is dark, fascinating and gives one food for thought about mental illness and if some types of disturbed states might not have some basis in the outside world. However, Torday does know how to grab his readers, and his style is one that makes reading his books a pleasure. For all of this, "The Girl on the Landing" deserves four out of five stars, and is recommended.

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        27.05.2013 22:56
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        A sort of mystery thriller set in England and Scotland

        The Girl on The Landing by Paul Torday

        I was passed this book by a friend as we had both enjoyed 'Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.' I was expecting a similar book so I was quite surprised when I got into this to find that it was so very different.

        This book has a similar sort of beige coloured front cover with red segments of a circle and black birds on it. I am not sure of the relevance of the cover but it looks very similar in style to 'Salmon Fishing' and also Marina Lewycka's 'Ukranian Tractors' and her other books. I can't say they attract me much but it seems to be a style which that publisher goes for.

        A BIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR
        Paul Torday was born in 1946 and studied English Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford. He spentmost of his adult life until he began writing working in the fields of engineering and in industry. He decided to follow his heart and write , publishing his first novel in 2006 ,Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,which was an instant bestseller and has been now sold in 25 countries.

        Since that success he has written this book and 'Light Shining in the Forest', ' The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall, ' More Than You Can Say, 'The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers, 'The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce ' and there could be others so he has been busy in those few years. So far I have only read the two books but will look out for others when in book shops.

        THE STORY

        Elizabeth and Michael have a marriage that is not exciting but they are comfortable together. We meet them when they are staying with one of Michael's Gentleman's Club 'friends' in Ireland.

        As Michael comes down the stairs after dressing for dinner, he sees a small painting of a landing with an old linen press and the white marble statue of an angel. In the background he thinks he sees a woman in a dark green dress. When he mentions the painting to his hosts they say there is no woman in painting and indeed on returning to his room later he sees that indeed they are right.

        Michael was one of those wealthy men who don't work and have an estate in Scotland then keep themselves busy by going to the 'Club' every day to 'work'. Elizabeth could be a lady of leisure but their marriage seems to be more one of mutual convenience rather than love and hse continues to work to maintain her own life and independence.

        This is the first of the many rather strange incidents that make Michael starts question his grip on reality. Elizabeth notices that Michael is being rather different and becomes concerned.

        Michael changes and becomes more animated and Elizabeth begins to fall in love with him and starts to actually begin to know the man she marries. This however is just the beginning of the changes and things start to change in a more unsettling way.

        What is Michael's secret and what exactly happened in his past.

        MY VIEWS 
        I had no idea what this book was about so had no preconceptions. As I started to read I thought it was turning into a bit of a ghost story then it became more mysterious as we find Michael has a secret past.
        I liked the way the novel was written from both the main character's view points chapter in turn. One chapter was Elizabeth's voice telling the story and the next Michael's and sometimes they told the same part of the story but from their view point and at other times they took the story forward. It also became obvious as the novel progressed that Michael was changing and that like Elizabeth and others in his social circle we were going to have to start to question what he was saying.

        I found the characters very believable and as the book progressed we got to know them both better. The side characters were good too especially the very English ones from 'Groucher's , the Gentleman's Club who were almost caricatures of the types found in these clubs.

        I was not sure I was going to like this initially as I am not keen on ghost books and supernatural and while this does dally with the supernatural the author manages to make this more of a tense mystery than a supernatural story.

        I found I really wanted Michael and Elizabeth to enjoy their life together finally but things were not going to work for them and it was sad that just as they were starting to really know and love each other that circumstances changed and nothing was going to ever be the same for them.

        I know very little about schizophrenia and what damage it can cause to the person and the family of the sufferer but it certainly made me question which is preferable the person being medicated into a virtual zombie or allowing them to suffer with their mental illness. Medical advances will hopefully create something that will allow these sufferers a more normal life. As I know little about this mental illness I can't say either way whether or not the portrayal of the symptoms was accurate or not but it certainly had my attention.

        This novel really grabbed me by about a third of the way in and I found it was much more of a mystery and thriller by the end. I did question how Michael managed to get away with all that he did in this day and age but then it is a novel and you have to allow some leeway and not expect everything to be totally realistic.

        I think it shows a talented writer if he can get the reader to care about the characters and I did find myself willing Michael to survive and really feeling for Elizabeth and how she was being torn by the situation.

        It is not a perfect novel but I enjoyed it and found it an easy read. Although the subject matter could be quite dark and uncomfortable there were places where humour was used to lighten the tension and other times when I was really very gripped by the situation. The only thing I would say is that the ending was abit unfinished in my view, I can't think of how I would have ended it but somehow it felt a bit lame after the exciting build up just before the end.

        I actually preferred this to 'Salmon Fishing..' which I did enjoy but found a bit too far fetched to really be in the least believable and the ending was actually quite dark I felt.

        I like the fact that this author does not seem to have a formula for his writing as the two novels I have read so far are very different.

        OTHER VIEWPOINTS

        "The author of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen impresses again with this absorbing tale of identity"   
        PSYCHOLOGIES
         
        "the finale is terrifying, harking back to old-fashioned ghost stories, but with a modern, plausible twist - it stood the hairs of my arms on end"  Toby Clements, DAILY TELEGRAPH
         
        "Torday skilfully maintains a knife-edge tension... an original and satisfying thriller" Michael Arditti, DAILY MAIL
         
        "A gently comic novel about schizophrenia sounds like the worst idea ever, but Torday pulls it off magnificently.. a clever, gripping novel" John O'Connell,  THE TIMES

        "It seems Paul Torday can do no wrong. The Girl on the Landing is his third book and destined to do as well as the other two."  Caroline Jowett, DAILY EXPRESS

        RECOMMENDED?
        Yes I enjoyed this but would not go quite as far as some of the reviews above. In fact I would say that I agree more with the Daily Mail writer than the one from the Times as I didn't really consider this to be a comic novel but maybe my sense of humour is rather different from others. I would say it is more of a gentle mystery thriller set in a very English and Scottish setting.

        Thanks for reading. This review may be posted on other sites under my same username.
        ©Catsholiday

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          19.10.2010 20:56
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          A tense thriller that is well worth a read.

          You think you know someone - but you never really do...

          Michael and Elizabeth have been married for ten years. Elizabeth has accepted her life with her 'boring' but wealthy husband. She kept her job to keep her sanity it would seem and also to retain a sense of normality outside of her husband's world of visiting Beinn Caorrun, the gloomy house in the Scottish glens near Perth in Scotland which he inherited when his parents died. Michael's only other interest is his membership of Groucher's, a club for Gentlemen with its old fashioned rules and regulations.
          Life with Michael is dull but safe and Elizabeth seems to have settled for that, accompanying Michael on the odd weekend away with fellow golf-playing members of Grouchers and also on trips to Beinn Caorrun, although Elizabeth does not like to visit the old house with its dark rooms and cold bedroom which Michael seems to prefer.

          However, Elizabeth suddenly starts to notice a change in Michael. Whilst they are staying in Ireland for a weekend with one of Michael's friends, he becomes intrigued by a painting on the landing, in particular, the girl in the painting. Michael mentions it to his hosts and is surprised when they tell him there is no girl in the painting. Indeed when Michael later returns to the landing to look at the picture again, the girl he thought he saw has gone.

          Following on from this, Elizabeth notices Michael is slowly starting to change from the quiet, dull man she has spent the last ten years with, into a more outspoken and opinionated, but most of all loving and fun to be with husband. Elizabeth finds herself falling in love with her husband as they discover the fun and intimacy together that has been suppressed all these years. But whilst she is enjoying 'finding' her husband at last, Elizabeth is puzzled as to who or what is changing Michael.
          After making a couple of discoveries about things it seems Michael has kept hidden from Elizabeth, she slowly begins to realise that their fragile happiness is threatened by secrets from Michael's past. Elizabeth finds herself becoming fearful for both herself and Michael, as she probes deeper into his past which is as dark as the old house at Beinn Caorrun.

          'The Girl On The Landing' is the first book I have read by author Paul Torday. Described as a tense thriller, I was intrigued by the storyline, which although starts off pretty mundane, slowly becomes darker and more disturbing with every chapter. What I initially thought was going to be an average read, as it wasn't holding my interest as well as I had hoped, turned out to be a strangely gripping thriller which is so well written it compels you to keep turning the pages.

          As you begin to read this book, you get the feeling it is set a number of years ago. The descriptions of Beinn Caorrun, the people Michael mixes with and his gentlemen's club:Grouchers, all give the impression that this is not a modern day story. However, the fact they have mobile phones for example, shows this is not the case at all. I also kept forgetting that Michael and Elizabeth are a couple in their thirties as you would be forgiven for thinking that maybe this is a couple in their fifties or maybe even sixties.
          I really thought I was not going to enjoy the book, but as Michael began to change, my interest in the book began to improve. Both Michael and Elizabeth seem to become more their real age as the changes in Michael change their life. I found myself drawn into the story, wondering exactly who Michael really was, what secrets were lying hidden in his past and how they were going to be revealed, as I felt it was inevitable that his past was going to return to haunt him.

          Torday builds up the tension really well throughout the book, turning what I thought was going to be a mundane story into a dark, chilling one as the suspense builds.
          Although I did not care much for the character of Elizabeth at first, as I questioned why she married Michael in the first place and came to the conclusion it was for stability and security rather than love, I found myself warming to her as she falls in love with her husband, only to begin to feel that despite her happiness, something is terribly wrong with her husband. Despite my initial reservations, I began to care about her character and as the situation intensifies, I sympathised with her plight as she felt torn and unsure what to do for the best. Although she finds herself in a dangerous situation, she loves her husband and does not want to betray him or his trust in her.

          The way in which Torday changes the character of Michael makes for really interesting reading. It was believable and intriguing and I did not know how far Torday was going to go with this character. In fact, I wondered if Torday actually knew this himself when he began to write the book. Maybe this is why the ending felt slightly rushed, as if the author realised he had better start tying up the ends. Having said that, I did feel there were a couple of things left unanswered but it didn't matter much, nor did it affect the eventual outcome which I did not predict.

          Overall, The Girl On The Landing is a well written tale and worthy of its 'tense thriller' tag. It is definitely worth sticking with, if like me, you are not drawn into the book right away. I enjoyed the writing and it has left me keen to read more of Paul Torday's work.

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            06.04.2010 15:46
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            a man's brain ticks stone age style

            Michael and Elizabeth Gascoigne have been married for ten years. She's a journalist for a London-based mag, he doesn't 'do' anything. He spends his time looking after his vast estate in Scotland and doing some kind of secretarial work for a gentlemen's club in London. His interests and sole topics of conversation are stalking, hunting, fishing and golfing. Michael and Elizabeth like each other and know that they can rely on each other, assets they both cherish. Yet, there isn't a spark of passion between them, their marriage is a synonym for boredom.

            One day, when they visit one of Michael's club mates in Ireland, Michael sees a picture in a corridor of the house which fascinates him. He sees an interior scene with a young woman standing on a landing. When he looks at it in better light, he realises that he was mistaken, there is no figure in the picture.

            Back in London Michael's attitude towards Elisabeth changes in a way she'd never even dreamt of: her boring husband turns into a passionate lover and she experiences at last the honeymoon feelings she didn't have ten years before. The reason for the profound change in Michael's personality is that he's stopped his medication. He was diagnosed a schizophrenic already as a boy. He heard voices in the forest, the people living there are the very first inhabitants of Britain who've come from prehistoric caves in Spain when Britain wasn't cut off the European landmass yet. They taught him to run through the forest for days without being seen and to hunt stone age style. Once he's found with a deer he's killed solely with a knife, how he was able to do it, he can't tell.

            Genetically he's obviously out of sync with the humankind of today. The local Scottish physician and a Harley Street psychiatrist he's sent to decided he had to be treated medicinally so that he can conform and fit into 'normal' society.

            When after ten years he finally wakes up from the stupor induced by the medicine, he asks himself why he should conform at all. Shouldn't humankind be capable of tolerating otherness? What harm does it do to anybody if one Michael Gascoigne knows he can converse with his ancestors of prehistoric times? I found this rather touching. I think every enlightened reader nods their head in agreement at this point of the story.

            But then I remembered a friend from uni days who suffered from schizophrenia. She was under heavy medication which saved her life, the way she saw the world was potentially lethal for her. Once she was sure an atomic war would break out any day and decided to escape to Denmark. By chance her psychiatrist spotted her walking north on the motorway, fortunately, he could persuade her to come back with him.

            Michael Gascoigne without medication is a different case, he isn't a danger to himself but to others. He had already stopped taking his medicine for a while when he was a boy unbeknownst to his physicians, what we learn about that time and what happens now is a dark, spine chilling thriller.

            I dislike fantasy with all my heart and was anxious the novel would glide from realistic fiction into this genre, but the author manages to just keep it rooted in the here improbable as some events are, especially the ones involving the young woman from the picture who becomes a regular character in the course of the story.

            So content-wise I'm content with The Girl On The Landing, but I've got complaints concerning the form. Michael and Elizabeth each give their account in the first person perspective. Unfortunately, the author has forgotten to think of a device to bind them together. I've always thought the different points of view an author can use belong to the basic tools of literary work and are taught in the beginners' course of Creative Writing.

            If an author decides to write a realistic novel, they can use the first person perspective only for one character if they don't want to lose credibility. If they use it for a second character as well, they must introduce a third character or an institution who or which brings the two accounts together in a plausible way. Someone can find two diaries or a confessor reveals the secrets he's heard from two people or . . . As a critic I've got the prerogative to poke in the wound but am not obliged to come up with a remedy. If an author doesn't realise themselves that what he's come up with is not plausible, an editor should point it out. I'm wondering again what editors get their salary for.

            If you aren't such a picky reader as I am and are more interested in a thrilling story as such than in the perfect execution of same, then you'll enjoy The Girl On The Landing. Readers who love the Scottish landscape may also like it, Paul Torday describes it knowingly and in great detail. Also readers with an interest in mental disorders may find fodder for thought in the book. If you're theologically minded, you can ponder the question why there's evil in the world at all together with Michael. To come to a conclusion: the novel is a good read if you're willing to overlook the structural flaw.

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              28.02.2010 21:04
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              A man sees a girl in a painting who isn't really there. It changes everything.

              This is Paul Torday's third novel, released last year. Having not yet read his first two, I can't make comparisons between them, but having read 'A Girl on the Landing,' I would certainly like to read his others.

              The story seems to be trying to cover several different themes simultaneously. Given this, it's quite surprising Torday managed to keep it down to a mere 308 pages. It is at once a classic ghost story and a critique of today's society, covering the themes of mental illness and racism. Could it be said that Torday has spread the butter on his bread a tad too thinly? Undoubtedly, but at least he's buttered the right side of his bread. By this I mean that the story is sufficiently engaging enough to have been the first book I've felt motivated enough to read to its conclusion in several weeks now.

              The basic premise, if that can be said of such a book, is of a couple in their mid-thirties who have been trapped in a virtually loveless marriage for the past 10 years. Elizabeth's father walked out on her and her mother when she was a teenager and so at the point when she meets Michael at a party, she is worried about her finances and the possibility of losing her job. Her first impressions of Michael are that he's a staid and boring man, but that he possesses the kind of reliability her father never demonstrated, and so they drift into a relationship and then into marriage.

              Michael's only interests appear to be hunting, fishing and playing cards, and he spends a great deal of his time in Scotland, at Beinn Caorrun, the ramshackle old house of his childhood, in pursuit of these hobbies.

              Things start to change, however, on a weekend the pair spend at an acquaintance's house in Ireland. Michael is entranced by a painting he finds of a girl on a landing, but when he enquires after more information, he is told by his puzzled hosts that there is in fact no girl in the painting at all.

              It is at this point that Michael begins to undergo a transformation, not unlike a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. The dull, reserved man who was previously incapable of speaking up against anyone else's views in case of conflict now finds it within himself to confront the members of his exclusive gentleman's club on their reluctance to let in a candidate on the basis that he's of Indian origin. Not only this, but his marriage to Elizabeth becomes more exciting and they discover a love for one another that was stifled from the start.

              However, this is not all there is to the story, by any stretch of the imagination. I won't give too much away, but suffice to say that things are not as they seem, and the girl in the painting may have a larger role to play than first meets the eye...

              The story is partly narrated by Elizabeth and partly by Michael, although Elizabeth becomes the main narrator for the latter part of the book.

              It kept me interested because of the intriguing and mysterious plot- I wanted to know about the girl in the painting and her significance to the whole tale. I also wanted to know the truth about what was happening to Michael, and the style of writing was fluid enough to keep me turning the pages.

              Nevertheless, I felt that things were wrapped up rather too abruptly, without reaching any satisfactory conclusion. Or rather, they were wrapped up all too neatly, yet somewhat unconvincingly, on the mental illness front, but the ghostly element of the story was left virtually untouched.

              I can't really say more than that without giving the ending away, but suffice it to say that I was left wanting more of an explanation, and felt that the author hadn't really had a clear ending in mind from the start. It was as though he tried to wrap everything up neatly, but several elements of the story unfortunately slipped through his net and refused to comply with his careless management of the narration.

              Another problem I had with this book was that I had quite some difficulty placing the era it was set in when I first started reading it. I felt confused, as the writing style was reminiscent of something I might have read by an author pre or slightly post World War Two, and yet the themes seemed relatively modern. The two protagonists are in their mid-thirties and yet some of their values seemed distinctly old-fashioned to me, and it was only when they mentioned mobile phones and laptops that I was able to place the story in the present. I have since realised that this probably has something to do with the age of the author- he was 62 at the time of writing this book.

              I don't wish to sound ageist by mentioning this, as this is still a well-written piece, and he clearly has at least as much talent as a younger author, but I do feel that he perhaps ought to have written about characters of his own age, as I feel he may have been able to characterise them more effectively. He could also have characterised them better by putting them into a 1940s or 50s setting, where I feel they would have been much more comfortable. Torday almost certainly chose the modern day in order to draw our attention to the continuing prevalence of racism in our society, and to the way in which mental illness can still be treated with some brutality. However, I feel that the latter of these themes would have fitted equally neatly into an earlier setting, and that the former is a relatively insignificant sub plot which would have been better left untouched in the context.

              Despite these issues, this still manages to be an interesting read. Torday is a decent writer, and A Girl On The Landing has an original plot that will draw you in and keep you guessing right up until the very last page.

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                09.12.2009 22:52
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                Paul Torday writes another winning novel

                While staying with friends in Ireland, Michael Gascoigne asks about a painting on the wall of the host's house, most particularly about the young woman in the painting. His host agrees that it's a rather striking picture but says there is no person in it and sure enough, later on, when Michael looks again at the painting, the girl is not there. During the journey home, his wife Elizabeth hears Michael say something she doesn't understand and when she asks him he insists he hasn't spoken. This is just the start of a change in Michael's behaviour that gives Elizabeth cause for concern.

                Their ten year marriage can hardly be said to have been happy; in fact, on the morning of their wedding, Elizabeth half hoped that Michael wouldn't turn up. She only really married him at all because she knew he would at least be reliable. Her father had abandoned the family when Elizabeth was young to live with a much younger woman which had somewhat coloured her opinion of men. Until now Michael has quietly trudged through life, rarely showing any enthusiasm for anything. He works part-time as the membership secretary of Grouchers, a gentleman's club in London, but the only thing that seems to make him anything approaching happy is spending time on his Scottish country estate. He doesn't need to work, his parents having both died when he was a teenager, leaving him comfortably off.

                But now Michael is becoming spontaneous; he takes pleasure in things that never interested him before. In the past he would hardly make conversation, even with friends but now he isn't afraid to speak his mind. Elizabeth has no idea what has caused the change in her husband but she knows she likes it. Still, she can't help wondering what is having this effect on him and when she starts digging, she learns that she really doesn't know Michael at all.


                Having read Paul Torday's first two novels (this is his third), I didn't hesitate to snap up a copy of "The Girl on the Landing" when it was on offer in Waterstones bookshop. I didn't stop to read the blurb and had I done so I probably wouldn't have bought the book. Ghost stories don't interest me as I don't believe in the supernatural and the like and the opening of the novel leads you to think that a ghost novel is what it is. In spite of my initial feelings I kept reading and was rewarded with a thought-provoking and well written story.

                The narration is shared between Elizabeth and Michael in almost alternating chapters. However, the reader gets to hear more than just one point of view. As Michael continues to change, so too does the way he tells his story. As for Elizabeth, she tells the story as she sees it and she also relates what Michael has told her. While this is useful in providing a wider picture of what is happening, I found it ultimately frustrating because the reader has to always bear in mind that Michael may not always be telling the truth - or at least not seeing things as everybody else sees them.

                As I've already pointed out, this is not a ghost story but the settings do provide good backdrops for unworldly events. Michael's Scottish estate "Beinn Caourrun" is brilliantly described: hauntingly beautiful but at the same time inhospitable and even hostile to those who don't know it as well as Michael. It reminded me a little of "Wuthering Heights" and the remote, windswept countryside that Torday paints heightened the uneasiness of some of the scenes.

                The scenes in Grouchers were also evocative of a dark, mysterious place that most people don't get to experience. The almost arcane rules and regulations in combination with the stuffy members and the old-fashioned interior loaned a sombre, one might suggest chilling, atmosphere.

                Michael is a really engaging character. Torday describes his character change brilliantly and expertly deomstrates how people like Michael can pull the wool over the eyes of even those closest to them. Elizabeth, though, struck me as being less realistic. While the change in Michael could be explained, the change that Elizabeth undergoes in response was less credible. In fact, in spite of her explaining her background, I just didn't believe that she would ever have married Michael at all. Towards the end of the novel her behaviour did become more realistic but by then I cared very little what happened to her and was focused entirely on poor Michael.

                There are big similarities here with Torday's second novel "The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce" in which the title character gives four accounts, each one with increasing clarity, of the same story. The first is at the peak of his problems with alcohol, the second a little while earlier and so on. In "The Girl on the Landing" the story gradually reveals itself in a similar way but Michel is a more unreliable narrator because he becomes more remote from reality as the story progresses chronologically.

                There are likely to be many who criticise Torday for making errors in tackling the subject matter of this novel. Mental health is not something I know a huge amount about but I do feel that he creates a realistic picture of someone trying to deal with those problems and the effect it can have on family members. In spite of the gravity of the subject this is not at all a heavy story. The section where Elizabeth rediscovers Michael as a warm and loving man is quite special while Michael's attempts to breathe new life into Grouchers have plenty of comedic value.

                In spite of minor frustrations with the reliability of the narration and the flaws in the development of Elizabeth's character, I was glad I stuck with this novel. Paul Torday is proving to be an accomplished and exciting novelist. Once again, I look forward to his next!

                320 pages

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                  25.11.2009 11:26
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                  sort of a thriller but didn't quite deliver

                  "The Girl on the Landing" is Paul Torday's third foray into novel writing, and having thoroughly enjoyed his first book ""Salmon Fishing in the Yemen", it was one that I was really looking forward to reading. The cover description looked intriguing, explaining as it does that it is the story of how Michael, who has been married to Elizabeth for ten years, sees a mysterious picture, and then "begins to change". I was expecting to read a dark thriller, and being familiar with the author's first work to be transported to a world that satirises our own, from the resume it sounded like it would be a chilling and interesting tale.

                  To some extent this book was what I was expecting, but in other ways I, personally, felt this novel failed to deliver. The story following Michael and Elizabeth, who have been rather unsatisfactorily married for ten years, and are approaching middle age, childless and in a rut until the changes in Michael start had potential I felt. However from the start the suggestion that Michael is changing into "Mikey" a more fun and flamboyant character, due to having glimpsed or not a girl in a picture on a landing during a dull duty house party, is no highly convincing Jekyll and Hyde tale. Perhaps the fact that the tale alternates between the two main characters as a narrator, without their "voice" being very distinct - Elizabeth for all intents and purposes to me was a less than believable woman, she read as if she were the woman who is the creation of a male author, and I never really empathised with her.

                  I enjoyed the scenes that were set in "Grouchers", a fictional Gentleman's club, stuck in the past where Michael works - however I think many readers would fail to relate to this at all, the gentle satire that worked so well in this author's first book doesn't really translate as well to a anachronistic and rather unknown world to many. The main problem I had is that I didn't really feel much suspense as the story unravelled, and saw the twist at the end and the two major ones along the way coming. The explanation as to why Michael changes in the book was rather cliched and unsatisying to me, and though I am not an expert in the field of health I did wonder how typical and believable the explanations as such were. I wasn't that chilled or indeed thrilled by this book, just mildly intrigued at some points, when I could get past one of the main characters not being a very real woman.

                  That said, this book is well written and much of the dialogue is well rendered, and it does have a delightful British feel to it. I found that the country house in Scotland "Beinn Caourrun" was more believable and interesting than some of the characters in the book however, especially the minor ones, so although I did read to the end I didn't really put the book down wishing it would go on.

                  This book is averagely good - I am not sure I would agree with the plaudits from the "Daily Express" on the back cover about the book, but you might enjoy it more if you haven't read his first book or maybe fancied a bit of nostalgia about an England that no longer exists. Paul Torday does have an original way of writing and take on the world, so I will read more of his books, I just wonder if he will struggle to write something as good as his first book; this novel certainly didn't achieve that goal.

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