“The Cellar” by Minette Walters
Synopsis: From the internationally bestselling, award-winning crime writer Minette Walters, The Cellar is a harrowing, compulsively readable novel about a family of African immigrants, the Songolis, and the dark secret they keep hidden in the depths of their seemingly respectable British home.
On the day Mr. and Mrs. Songoli’s young son fails to come home from school, fourteen-year-old Muna’s fortunes change for the better. Until then, her bedroom was a dank windowless cellar, her activities confined to cooking and cleaning. Over the years, she had grown used to being abused by the Songoli family—to being their slave.
Now that Scotland Yard has swarmed the Songoli house to investigate the disappearance of the son, Muna is given a real bedroom, real clothing, and treated, at least nominally, as a daughter. But her world remains confined. She is not allowed to go outside, doesn’t know how to read or write, and cannot speak English. At least that’s what the Songolis believe. Before long it becomes clear that young Muna is far cleverer—and her plans more terrifying—than the Songolis, or anyone else, can ever imagine.
3 out of 5 stars
(Warning: Triggering for Child Abuse)
This novella had such promise but ultimately failed to deliver on what started out as a great premise.
This is the store of Muna, a child slave who lives in the Songoli household. Stolen from an orphanage when she was 8, she has lived with them and been systematically abused by them for six years. Muna is kept in the cellar where she draws comfort from the house as she hears it speaking to her.
A ray of hope appears to her when the youngest son goes missing and the family is investigated by the police. Suddenly she is called “daughter” and given proper clothes and a room of her own so the family can explain her existence. But Muna is much smarter and more calculating than the family knows and begins to take her revenge.
Reading about Muna’s complete disassociation from humanity was chilling. Her abuse has turned her into a complete sociopath. The story line did have some issues though.
Muna learns to speak English by listening through the door to the tutoring given to the Songoli sons. That is believable. Somehow she also learns to read and write later in the story which is not believable as it happens so suddenly and without any warning – she just does all of a sudden.
And the ending. We build the entire story to this ending which is a huge letdown. It just … ends. It feels like it’s in the middle of a sentence when it ends and I honestly thought it did.
I gave the story 3 stars, but feel it really deserves 2 and 1/2.
Love the cover though as the cellar features prominently throughout the book.