After reading Sophie’s World, I didn’t know what to read next and so wandered over to our “unread” bookshelf and perused the titles. After picking up a few books, I decided on a whim to try a Paul Torday novel called The Girl on the Landing.

I knew nothing whatsoever about this novel, but had bought it a while back in a charity shop, solely based on the fact that I had read and enjoyed a couple of his other novels (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce).

The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday

In fact, before I get on to the novel itself, I must just mention a couple of things about Paul Torday. The phenomenally successful comic novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was Torday’s first novel. Yes, that’s right: the very first time he turned his hand to novel writing he sold bookshops worth of copies throughout the world, won two literary prizes, and had the work turned into a major film. And do you know how old he was when this first work was published? Fifty-nine. Yes – I’ll write it again – 59. Amazing. (I like to think that there’s still time for me yet…)

Although he was a late starter, once Salmon Fishing was published, Torday then went on to write a further seven novels in the next seven years. Another quite remarkable feat. Sadly, I see that Torday is no longer with us, as he passed away in 2013.

Anyway, enough about the author; what is the novel about?

Well, it is a strange tale, truth be told.

Michael Gascoigne appears to be the very epitome of reliability and routine. He is a man who wears the same types of clothes day in, day out, and whose days follow the same pattern – either whiled away at Grouchers, his Mayfair gentleman’s club, or spent up on his Perthshire estate, walking, fishing, or shooting.

Michael’s wife, Elizabeth, still likes her husband, but finds their marriage passionless and uneventful, but over the years she has come to accept it for what it is.

But then Michael begins to change.

It all starts when they are visiting some friends of friends, and Micheal believes that he sees a mysterious girl in a painting hanging in their landing. From then on, various small changes start to occur in this otherwise most predictable of men. At first Elizabeth (who narrates half the chapters) likes the changes she observes in her husband. He becomes more interesting, lively, passionate even. But then she finds some packets of unused medication, and starts out on a journey of discovery about her husband that becomes more and more disturbing.

The Girl on the Landing is a curious book. Part psychological thriller, part romance, and part ghost story. It’s certainly eerie, although mostly due to the fact that, along with Elizabeth, you find yourself questioning everything that you thought you knew about Michael. To be honest, I can’t really work out whether I like the book or not. It is certainly a darker kind of tale than I typically go for. However, it is well structured, and the way that the narrative is told through the eyes of Michael in one chapter and then Elizabeth the next certainly helps to add to the complexity, confusion, and suspense that the author was evidently trying to achieve.

At any rate, a book not to be read alone in a remote Scottish house.

If you did like this, you might also enjoy Paul Torday’s The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce.

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