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A gripping, atmospheric novel about obsession and love

A gripping, atmospheric novel about obsession and love.

'Little by little, Elsa leaked out of her enclosure, strayed out into every corner of the house . . . In my bed at night, she switched places with me, she enjoying the softness of my bed, and I finding myself cramped up in her airless niche.'

This extraordinary novel is seen through the eyes of Johannes. An avid member of the Hitler Youth in the 1940s, he discovers his parents are hiding a Jewish girl called Elsa behind a false wall in their large house in Vienna. His initial horror turns to interest, then love and obsession.

After the disappearance of his parents, Johannes finds he is the only one aware of Elsa's existence in the house, the only one responsible for her survival. Both manipulating and manipulated, Johannes dreads the end of the war: with it will come the prospect of losing Elsa and their relationship, which ranges through passion and obsession, dependence and indifference, love and hate. This gripping, masterful work examines truth and lies at both political and personal levels, laying bare the darkest corners of the human soul.


Christine Leunens’ novel Caging Skies begins in Austria at the time of its annexation to the German Reich. Narrator Johannes Betzler is [. . .] a boy who innocently embraces the Nazi dream. He becomes a member of the Hitler Youth but soon makes a devastating discovery: his parents are hiding Elsa, a young Jewish woman, behind a false wall in their house. That parents became afraid of their children is an electrifying element of the time. It’s rich ground for fiction. The Betzler family is a vital, believable group. For the reader, drawn into the subtle interactions of the Betzler house, Leunens’ clear, elegant prose and sometimes blackly comic tone, this would be satisfying enough. There is more to come, however. The madness of the war has entered Johannes.

Charlotte Grimshaw, New Zealand Listener

The opening lines of Christine Leunens’s novel are more like poetry than prose. Certainly, it presents a fascinating psychological study in self-justification. Leunens has an ear for language and the ability to create a vividly sensual world for her characters that I found highly satisfying.

Cushla McKinney, Otago Daily Times

Totally compelling.

NZ Woman’s Weekly

Leunens has created a powerful, imaginative and clever psychological drama. In dealing with obsessive love and self-delusion, she views truth and lies at the political and personal level.

Nelson Mail

A novel that breaks all the rules. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, the result is a disturbing and gripping novel that has haunted me ever since I finished reading it.

New Zealand Books

A fine range of psychological relationships going on through this big story. It is a major ambition and significant accomplishment as a book. Leunens does a remarkable job capturing the nature of the two people and the complicated relationships among them. An imaginative novel, daring, singular, adventurous. I’m commending it as much as recommending it.

David Hill, Nine to Noon, Radio NZ National

An analysis of the uncontrollable fecundity of a lie, which gives way to life and concrete experience. The lie doesn’t mystify or disown reality, but rather becomes the plasma of one’s desires and the adjusting to one’s necessities. The liar himself falls into a spiral of self deception until he consciously cages himself in a virtual universe, whereby the internal truth and false, fiction and authentic constitute one.

Ruggero Bianchi, La Stampa

The writing of Christine Leunens is a real pleasure to read and boasts beautiful stylistic finds. Caging Skies is a successful autopsy of the empire of passions. It is impossible to never recognise oneself in the setbacks of the protagonist.

Aurélia di Donato, Evene

It is a beautiful novel, powerful, different, and ambitious. It explores a less rare form of relationship, it appears, than one believes: love so total that it locks up, isolates and colonises the partner until destruction; annihilates the outside world. This kind of passion naturally implies the lie, the dressing up of realities and the construction of a wall to protect itself. It’s without a doubt in the malaise one feels when reading Caging Skies that one recognises the surprising, surprising power of the novel. A profound malaise, which lasts well after the read, sign of a very rare power, that of a truly good book, which knows how to carry the reader into a story. Christine Leunens . . . always has the immense merit of surprising and captivating. Caging Skies is one of these books that cannot be forgotten.

Jean Soublin, Le Monde

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    April 4, 2008

    RHNZ Vintage

    448 pages

    RRP $27.99

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  • EBook


    September 1, 2010

    Random House New Zealand

    448 pages

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