The Woman on the Stairs: A Book Review

SChlink’s novel The Woman on the Stairs was translated from the German by Joyce Hackett and Bradley Schmidt. The story is about love – obsessive and enduring and creativity.

The story starts in Sydney where a middle aged lawyer comes across a painting which was thought to be lost of “The woman on the Stairs” and it reignites a time at the beginning of his career in Germany. The artist Schwind, commissioned by Gundlach to paint his wife, falls in love with her. The love triangle is complicated when the lawyer, representing Schwind in a disagreement with Gundlach, also falls in love with Irene, the woman on the Stairs.

Irene leaves Gundlach for Schwind and again the lawyer becomes involved in the deal to return Irene to her husband. Schwind wants the painting back Gundlach wants Irene. The lawyer alerts Irene and persuades her to go with him, taking the painting with her. Irene leaves them all and isn’t heard of again until the painting resurfaces.

The unnamed narrator delays his return to Germany in order to find the annonymous donor of the painting whom he assumes is Irene. He finds her in an isolated place on the coast north of Sydney. Lured by the painting Gundlach and Schwind also arrive. You’ll have to read it for the outcome and I won’t spoil it for you.

The lawyer – the narrator is a workaholic, disconnected from the world and we remain disconnected from him although we see the world through his eyes as he describes the landscape to us but in a way that doesn’t give us a sense of place yet we know exactly where we are for example on a ferry trip on the harbour he says:

The ferry went past a small island, fortified long ago for an imaginary war with some imaginary enemy, past rusty, gray, bobbing warships, past waterfront houses where life was cheerful and light, past woods, a swimming beach here and there, and a marina.

This leaves us with no doubt as to where we are and knowing Sydney Harbour I know that the small island is Fort Dennison but the lack of detail and emotion serves to demonstrate how disconnected the lawyer is from the world. When his wife died he continued to work. The only impetuous moment in his life was his dealing with Irene.

Unlike the lawyer the other characters are well drawn and I would say it is a character driven work. There are a number of questions that the reader ponders such as what is the crime that Irene committed. Some of these questions are answered at the end whilst others linger.

Would I recommend this book – I think it would make a great film and I enjoyed reading it so yes – I would say it is worth a read although I don’t know how much enjoyment I got from knowing the setting.

The author is a lawyer who works between Germany and the USA. The inspiration for the painting is Ema – Nude on a Staircase painted by Gerhard Richter which is held in the NSW Art Gallery.

About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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2 Responses to The Woman on the Stairs: A Book Review

  1. I found The Reader to be a well written book, so I believe I will like The Woman on the Stairs. Thank you for a great review, Irene,

    Liked by 1 person

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