The Cellar by Minette Walters
|The Cellar by Minette Walters|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Liz Green|
|Summary: An interesting study of human behaviour, cunning and survival.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 256||Date: May 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
To my mind, The Dark Room is the most perfect psychological thriller ever written (and I've read lots in this genre). In her later works, Minette Walters seemed to veer away from this particular path to glory as her novels became steadily darker and with increasingly dislikeable characters. So it was quite refreshing to discover that The Cellar was written from the point of view of a rather likeable protagonist. Muna is an African child living in, shall we say, somewhat unusual and very cruel conditions: she was stolen and now lives in captivity. Her voice is compelling and from the first page I found myself wanting her to make good her escape from the dreadful - and sadly all too believable - circumstances in which she finds herself. So, naturally, I admired her cunning and resourcefulness, knowing that these attributes would serve her well. But, of course, this is Minette Walters and nothing is as simple as it first appears. As the story unfolded I found myself questioning who exactly were the victims and who, if anyone, was innocent.
Muna's deprivations have left her with little understanding of the outside world - when she does venture outside, she is genuinely terrified. She also has an ingrained mistrust of the white people with whom she occasionally comes into contact through the book, saying of her brave neighbour, with pitiable wisdom, 'Perhaps her courage came from being white'. When the Education Officer comes to the house, Muna manages to talk her way out of trouble. 'It was good that whites found the truth embarrassing. It made them easier to get rid of.' The simplicity with which such insights are expressed makes them wonderfully resonant.
Muna has an innate ability to understand what motivates others and this is what informs her behaviour through the book and gives her words a chilling plausibility. Of her neighbour, again, we are told, prophetically, that 'this witchy-white was as knowing and clever as she was'. For me, Muna's remarkable voice is the making of this book.
Typically, Minette Walters steers her readers in a particular direction, only to surprise us later on. There are early clues to later plot developments but, misdirected by this marvellously manipulative writer, only the most analytical of readers will see these for what they are.
It's only a short book, more of a novella really, but it was an enjoyable read with sufficient characterisation and plot to make it most satisfying.
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