A review of The Girl in the Basement by Dianne Bates

Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

The Girl in the Basement
Morris Publishing Australia
RRP: PB: $22.95 E-book: $4.99, ISBN: 9780987543417

“Distant from neighburs, it stands in paddocks of tangled brambles, bleached animal bones and pines that have shed a carpet of needles.
’A four-bedroom house,’ the estate agent says. ‘You have a large family?’
‘They’re coming,’ the man replies.”
His mother is dead, his siblings years gone and the man is utterly alone. But not for long. He has a plan.
“From dawn to dusk, he labours. Sweat drizzles down his face and body; his muscles bulge and build up strength.
The hole beneath the house widens. Deepens.”

The excerpts above are taken from the prologue. The story hadn’t yet begun and already goosebumps were marching down my spine. It was a sensation that would become familiar. When a party turns sour, sixteen year-old Libby hits the road. Little does she know that this will be her last taste of freedom for some time. Waiting in the shadows to take her home is, the man. Libby wakes in a concrete cell lit by a tantalizingly distant skylight. Over the coming months her mind will become imprinted with every detail of this place. She will never forget it. If she survives.

I read a lot of books and the downside of this is that it’s rare to find one that hooks me so completely that I feel I’m living it. This is one such story. Not since, Stephen King’s, Misery, have I cared so much about the fate of a character. Part of the reason is that this story isn’t entirely fiction. It’s on our television screens and in our newspapers. It’s probably happening now. Only recently the world was shocked and appalled to learn that three women were held captive in a house in Cleveland Ohio for a decade. Disturbingly, this is just one of far too many true stories.

&However, it takes more than just a story that we can all relate to on some level to hook a reader; it takes a skilled storyteller to place that reader in the front seat. This is something Bates does extremely well. I applaud her decision to include the ’man’s viewpoint. His faulty reasoning and demented logic add volumes to the creeping terror that underlies every chapter. Like groundwater seeping slowly to the surface, this damaged man’s thoughts trickle into the reader’s consciousness. Perhaps the most frightening part of all are those passages from his viewpoint that engender pity and compassion.

While Libby’s story is, of course, a work of fiction, it should serve as a warning to young women whom, I’m sure, will have no trouble identifying with this character. It’s been a long time since I was a carefree sixteen year-old, yet I instantly saw my naïve young self in Libby.

In short, The Girl in the Basement is heart-thuddingly creepy, it plucks at every emotion and once it has entered your reality it will linger long after the final page is turned. Highly recommended.

About the reviewer: Jenny Mounfield is the author of four books and numerous short stories for young people. Her first novel for adults, The Unforgetting, is available from the Kindle Store. Jenny’s reviews have appeared both online and in print. She lives north of Brisbane with her husband and three grown children.