@duffythewriter the woman on the stairs review

The Woman On The Stairs

For decades the painting was believed to be lost.

But, just as mysteriously as it disappeared, it reappears, an anonymous donation to a gallery in Sydney. The art world is stunned but so are the three men who loved the woman in the painting, the woman on the stairs.  One by one they track her down to an isolated cottage in Australia. Here they must try to untangle the lies and betrayals of their shared past before time runs out.

The Woman On The Stairs is written by Bernard Schlink, the author of one of my favourite books (and movies) The Reader.  The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, a young lawyer who is pulled into a tangled love triangle.  The successful older businessman Gundlach, his young lover Irene, and Schwind, an aspiring artist commissioned to paint Irene.  The painting of Irene, the woman on the stairs and the object of their affection and obsession becomes the focus of a long-running and passionate dispute.  Our unnamed narrator oversteps his legal obligations and becomes embroiled in the feud, it all ends rather messily with everyone losing out in one way or another.

Many years pass and our emotionally distant, lonely lawyer is in Sydney where he has learned the painting of Irene, missing for decades has been donated to the art gallery.  Here we pick up the lives of these four as they come together once more.

What Did I think?

I had such high expectations of this book, maybe too high.  I believe Schlink will always be compared to his most famous work The Reader and the rest will hover in the background.  Schlink certainly has a formula; characters who are emotionally cut off and achingly lonely, particularly middle-aged men, but this plot lacked the emotion and empathy of past books.  I felt nothing for these characters. The self-absorbed artist, the wealthy, narcissistic businessman, the lonely and a bit ‘wet’ lawyer and conniving Irene. However, being a Sydney-sider I really enjoyed the quiet moments our narrator spent in the Royal Botanic Gardens and at the Art Gallery NSW.  The last third of the booked felt very contrived to me, and once I read the last page, I was left feeling a little empty.  I hadn’t wasted my time reading this book, but there was no attachment for me, and it all seemed devoid of any emotion.  I need to feel something for a character, hate, love, pity, but nothing came up for me here, which was disappointing.

Not quite the punch that The Reader had.

2 stars out of 5 from me.

Buy now at Booktopia $24.95

The Book Blurb

In a museum far from home a man stumbles onto a painting of a woman for whom he once, long ago, risked everything and who then mysteriously disappeared from his life.

As a young lawyer, the nameless protagonist of The Woman on the Stairs became entangled in the affairs of three people mired in a complex and destructive relationship. An artist, the woman whose portrait he had painted, and her husband became a triangle that drew the lawyer deeper and deeper into their tangled web. Now, encountering the painting that triggered it all, the lawyer must reconcile his past and present selves; when he eventually locates the woman, he is forced to confront the truth of his love and the reality that his life has been irrevocably changed.

With The Woman on the Stairs, the internationally acclaimed author of The Reader delivers a powerful new novel about obsession, creativity, and love. Intricately crafted, poignant, and beguiling, this is Bernhard Schlink writing at his peak.