Somehow I missed this earlier in the year when McLehose Press published it, but then Clare from US Publisher, Flatiron Books asked if I’d join their blog tour. You know me, German Noir? I’m not going to say no.
The blurb from Flatiron Books begins, “This novel begins where others end”. Well, not quite, because Emma Donaghue’s Room explores similar territory. Hausmann’s novel is, however, much darker.
To quickly set the context: A woman runs out of the woods and is hit by a car. She is left in a coma.
The novel opens as the authorities are attempting to get the story out of her daughter, Hannah – no ordinary child. In possession of an extraordinary amount of general knowledge, she shows no emotional distress at all. Yet when she lets slip details of her story, they are most perturbing. “She wanted to kill papa by accident … You don’t have to tell the police. Jonathan is taking care of the stains on the carpet.”
At the same time Matthias is a father who has been searching for his missing daughter, Lena for 13 years. He blames the police, in particular, his former best friend, Gerd, for the failure to find her. When Gerd contacts him to identify the woman in the hospital, his hopes are raised. Only to be dashed. This woman is not Lena, but just as he is leaving the hospital, he catches sight of Hannah, who is the spitting image of his daughter at that age. Just what is going on?
No more spoilers but what emerges is a tale of abduction, and iron-fisted control. Of two children for whom locked-in boarded-up isolation and regimentation in all things (including toilet times) is normal. Of a woman abducted and forced through brutal means to submit, to repress her own identity. Of a grandfather, who perhaps qualifies as the most irritating character of my reading year; someone who wants to play the press but who finds he is the one being played. Of his friend, Gerd, who should know better, and, if this were real life, would probably face disciplinary action. Of a sadistic maniac, a god in his own household, who makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
There are three narrators: Hannah, Lena (?) and Matthias. All are first-person , all are flawed with very different psychological traumas to overcome. Their voices are authentic. This is a combination which makes not only for a compelling thriller, but also for a fascinating exploration into the human psyche.