The mystery of Kaspar Hauser unravelled
Kaspar Hauser has intrigued historians, writers and artists for centuries. The teenage Kaspar appeared out of the blue in Nuremberg in 1828, hardly able to speak or walk, and was murdered a few years later. Kristien Dieltiens has constructed a masterful novel around Kaspar’s life.
Cellar Child begins with an impressive scene that grips the reader and refuses to let go until the breathtaking finale 480 pages later. This extraordinarily rich book is not only captivating and exciting; it also paints a vivid psychological portrait of two outcasts, both rejected by society.
In addition to Kaspar, we follow the trail of Manfred, a boy of lowly origins, born with a hare lip. He is bullied and excluded and his mother’s intense love is not enough to stop him developing into a recluse. The adult Manfred still longs for the slightest gesture of friendship and love. Years of bullying and abuse by his stepfather have left their mark. His vulnerability makes him a perfect pawn for evil. He has been hardened by life, but is totally naïve nonetheless; filled with hate yet frightened as a rabbit.
Dieltiens’ fiftieth novel is a true literary page turner, which boasts perfect timing with alternating moments of suspense and reflection. The author avoids the cheap sentiment and heavy emotions such a plot might incline. She often turns aside from the story at the most intense moments, briefly allowing the reader to imagine the impact of the events on the characters. This is part of what makes Cellar Child an enthralling novel that lingers long after the last page.