THE CELLAR by Minette Walters
Kirkus Star

THE CELLAR

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This short work reads like a recipe for evil and may well induce a nightmare or two.

The Songoli family's peace is shattered when their young son disappears, but this tragedy is a blessing for 14-year-old Muna. With Scotland Yard on the case and the media close by, the girl they stole from an orphanage, kept in the basement, and mercilessly abused is allowed a bedroom, clean clothes, and the status of "daughter." Yetunde no longer demands to be called "Princess" and pretends maternal affection during police interviews. Ebuka's sexual assaults and even son Olubayo's leering and threats have tapered off. Since the family members believe their own repeated statements about Muna’s being illiterate and brain-damaged, they can't conceive of her as a threat. This portrait of an immigrant family living in a white world is densely layered. The attention of investigators is insulting and condescending at times, and it's easy to instinctively take the Songolis' side, only to remember they're monsters with a terrible secret. Walters (Innocent Victims, 2012, etc.) plays with that tension to great effect; each time a Songoli learns something new about what Muna is actually capable of it's a terrifying thrill...and it turns out she's quite capable. When she calmly tells Ebuka, "As your life gets worse, mine gets better" and repeatedly reminds the family that she's nothing more or less than what they've made her, this becomes less a taste of delicious revenge than a meditation on the consequences of abuse. Those brave enough to admit fault and apologize have some hope of forgiveness, but this is a defiant family for whom things more often end poorly and with true horror. That it's all related so calmly only increases the tension.

Sly pacing and a detached narrative voice give this horror story exceptional punch.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2451-7
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Mysterious Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2015




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