Suki Piper has returned to London after a decade long escape to New Zealand. Specifically, she has come back to the old neighborhood in Notting Hill, where her family lived for the first eight years of her life. A place full of memories, some that feel like bits and pieces of surreal images, while others hint at mysterious goings-on that she has struggled for years to piece together and understand.
Soon Suki is once again enmeshed with members of the Wright family: Peggy, the matriarch; Pippa, the daughter who was once a teen babysitter for Suki; and Harold, the strange and sometimes condescending son. These former neighbors lived in an upstairs flat above the basement where the Pipers lived, and now Peggy lives there alone.
As Suki floats from place to place, sleeping on friends’ couches, she begins to reach out to Pippa, feeling totally disconnected from everyone else, and realizing that friendships she left behind are not so easily resumed. Her old friends seem distant and disinterested.
So when Pippa asks Suki to stay with Peggy, who is in failing health, while her family goes to Greece for vacation, Suki agrees. Where else will she go?
What follows are a series of flashbacks, taking the reader from the present to the past and back again. Suki’s first person narrative carries the reader into her early childhood memories, the time in New Zealand, and the strange memories that haunt her about a long-ago time before her father’s abandonment of the family.
How does an old air-raid shelter in the backyard figure into Suki’s half-formed and surreal memories? Who is “the girl below” and what is her significance in Suki’s life? What must Suki do to finally sort out the strange moments and what they mean to her life in the present, and how do they connect to questionable things in the past?
I found myself totally absorbed in Suki’s dilemmas, especially her feelings of isolation and disconnect from people and places. Her father’s abandonment, followed a few years later by her mother’s death, left her feeling unmoored. Rudderless, as if her life had no meaning and she had no significant connections to anyone. Her quest for a feeling of belonging through a series of love affairs and the endless pursuit of the euphoric high of drugs felt appropriate for someone who has not dealt with her issues of abandonment and loss. I was pleased at how Suki was eventually able to finally put the past into its place and form a starting point for a new future. The Girl Below: A Novel was a surreal journey into one somewhat narcissistic woman’s psyche, and at times, was a bit self-pitying. Four stars.