A new novel from Barbara Vine (or Ruth Rendell, her alter ego) is always cause for celebration, and in this exceptional psychological thriller, she displays all her mastery of craft to draw the reader into an unfamiliar world. She paints a vivid picture of the roots of obsession in the history of a young woman whose love of high places has been marked by tragedy, guilt, and exile from her family's home.
Clodagh Brown has always been frightened by enclosed spaces and loved climbing, a phobia and passion that resulted in the death of her high school sweetheart. As a college student living in the basement of a distant relative's home in Maida Vale, a slightly shabby London neighborhood, she encounters a group of peers who share both of these psychological quirks and introduce her to the steep rooftops of her new surroundings. Clodagh soon falls in love with Silver, a young man whose top-floor apartment across from her flat houses a diverse and fascinating group of people. Their youthful idealism and moral certainties are often at odds with conventional values and legal niceties. While Clodagh and Silver carry the story, their peers present ample opportunities for Vine to showcase her talent for imagining a multiplicity of lives and personas--from Liv, the Swedish au pair who can clamber over rooftops like a mountain goat but is terrified of what awaits her on level ground, to Jonny, whose pathological need to dominate the others, particularly Liv, leads to the shocking and tragic denouement. When the climbers chance upon a top-floor flat where a couple and their adopted mixed-race son are hiding from the authorities (who would remove the child from their care), Vine's ability to alter pace without sacrificing story or character really stands out. Grasshopper is an acutely drawn, immensely satisfying book. --Jane Adams
From Publishers Weekly
Writing under her Vine pseudonym, Ruth Rendell offers another of her intriguing, multifaceted psychological suspense novels (The Chimney Sweeper's Boy and The Brimstone Wedding, etc.). The narrator here is Clodagh Brown, who, as a child growing up in Suffolk, loved climbing trees, then steeples and eventually pylons whose steel arms carried electricity across nearby fields. Resembling giant grasshoppers from a distance, close-up they embodied high-voltage, lethal danger; indeed, a teenage Clodagh survives a tragic accident involving a pylon and her first love, Daniel, before she leaves home at 19 for college in London. She finds classes boring, whereas walks through Victorian neighborhoods, with five-story row houses, decorative cornices and quaint chimneys, enchant her. Clodagh almost forgets the claustrophobic terrors she's suffered since childhood until she collapses in a pedestrian underpass and is rescued by an archetypal savior named Silver. On the top floor of his mostly absent parents' home, Silver provides a haven for a disparate group: exotic Wim, mentor to would-be roof climbers; Liv, who, after an accident, can't face descending to street level; and amoral Jonny, who interests Silver because he is "a real life burglar." Silver has a small trust fund, so he's free to cultivate "the habit of happiness." He and Clodagh fall in love, and both become intrepid midnight roof climbers. As youthful idealists, they determine to help a couple harassed by tabloids accusing them of kidnapping a child. Their ill-fated attempt leads to a terrifying climax. Although readers know that Clodagh, a beguiling heroine, has survived to become a successful electrical engineer, and is newly married, the story of her youthful adventures is enthralling, and the conundrums she faces in her life because of her love of heights make for an ingenious story told by a master of suspense.
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