The Devil's Staircase by Helen Fitzgerald

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The Devil's Staircase by Helen Fitzgerald

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Natalie Moran
Reviewed by Natalie Moran
Summary: The story of a sex-obsessed teenager set against the sub-plot of kidnap and torture that is unfolding beneath her feet.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Polygon
ISBN: 978-1846970450

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The novel begins with 18 year old Bronwyn taking a simple blood test. But this is no routine check-up, this is the test which will finally confirm whether or not she has the disease which killed her mother at 40. The doctors tell her there's a 50/50 chance she does have it, and ever since her elder sister got the all clear, she's certain the results will be positive. But she doesn't want to know, so she writes a note, and gets on a plane from her Australian home to London.

Since the bitter sweet news Ursula is healthy, Bronwyn's life has been shadowed by a darkness that has ruined what should have been the best years of her life - she hasn't applied for university, she hasn't fallen in love, and she hasn't thought about the future. She's naive, sheltered and very responsible, and it's time for her to do some serious living. Lacking clothes and money, Bronwyn, affectionately known as Bronny, soon finds herself moving into a squat with some fellow Aussies. It is here she finds a friend and sexual mentor in Fliss, a stick thin wannabe model, who volunteers for the job upon learning that Bronwyn is still an innocent virgin. Now, Bronny begins her quest to 'lose the unloseable' guided by a girl who keeps a (big) jar of coins to signify all of the men she's slept with.

Her new friends welcome her with gusto into their hedonistic lifestyle, and as Bronwyn parties and has pills popped into her mouth, she is happier than she's ever been before. After a couple of weeks she begins to hear strange noises, but shrugs it off, convinced by her friends that she's probably just smoking too much grass. But for the reader the narrative switches to describe in detail the sexual, physical and psychological torture that is going on in the basement beneath the commotion of several oblivious lives. This disturbing content really does add an exciting and shockingly different second dimension, and the interweaving of the plots is done very convincingly.

Sex and nudity are very much themes of the novel, and not just in the context of the sexual abuse going on in the basement. There is a lot of walking in on people bathing and getting changed, and some inexplicable shedding of clothes, supposedly due to the amount of drugs being taken. On top of this, Bronny gets a job in a steam room so there are a lot of naked women wandering into her view. The novel does well to cover both the average and the more extreme sexual behaviour inherent in society.

This seemed very much a novel intended for readers Bronwyn's age, but I am not sure this audience would respond well to certain aspects of the story. In particular, I felt some descriptions and events were a little overblown. The scenes in which characters buy drugs from men in dark rooms in the back of clubs seems a little 'Hollywood' considering the height of drug culture today; Bronwyn's not exactly living a healthy lifestyle but she's not a drug addict, an alcoholic, or anywhere near as sexually promiscuous as many teenagers. Considering this, I don't feel that all of the novel's content quite has the desired effect.

The plot seemed a little aimless at first, and was mostly character development, but the book really came into its own in the second half. It was really easy to read, in a good way, so would be ideal as a holiday novel if you'd like something with a little more substance than the norm. Narration is a strong point, and the switches in points of view throughout the book do well to hold interest. By the time I got close to the end of the book I was flying through it, and the shear number of twists towards the end kept me hooked, making the conclusion far better than I expected; well-balanced and satisfying.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this type of book appeals to you then we think that you might also enjoy Hidden by Katy Gardner.

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