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A Sight for Sore Eyes Mass Market Paperback – March 7, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Nobody does North London squalor better than Ruth Rendell. Describing in vivid detail the cultural sewer in which a monster named Teddy Brex grows up, she uses hideous furniture, slovenly housekeeping habits, even his mother's diet while pregnant to root us in the setting's hopeless ugliness. In contrast, Rendell introduces people and places of stunning beauty: Francine, a mentally fragile girl who became mute after witnessing her mother's murder; and Orcadia Cottage, scene of a famous painting that is at the center of much of the story's anguish. "It was far and away the most beautiful place he had ever seen," Rendell writes when Teddy--a gifted woodcrafter--first views the cottage. "The proportions of this hall, this room... the windows, the walls, the carpets, the flowers, the furniture, the paintings, all of it dazzled him."

Teddy is another of Rendell's frightening moral cripples, a seemingly ordinary person capable of the vilest crimes. When he becomes obsessed with Francine after meeting her at art school, we know to expect murder--we just aren't sure when, or who will be the victim. Equally vile is Julia, Francine's stepmother, a psychologist of such immense and malevolent ineptness that we would swear she couldn't possibly exist if real life hadn't taught us otherwise. Other important characters are Harriet, a faded beauty who connects the past to the present; Teddy's uncle Keith, who first recognizes the boy's madness; and a bright red, lovingly restored Edsel, which becomes a hearse.

Like all of her books, Rendell's latest is really about the secret acts of insanity that occur behind closed doors. Among her best books available in paperback are From Doon with Death, A Guilty Thing Surprised, The Keys to the Street, and, from the excellent Inspector Wexford series, Kissing the Gunner's Daughter, Road Rage, and Simisola. --Dick Adler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

A pair of English teens, Teddy and Francine (who have grown up in dysfunctional families where common parenting faults are taken to extremes), meet and think that in each other they might find the beauty and freedom their own lives are lacking. Their troubled affair takes a while to get going, but once it does, Rendell's sharp characterizations and idiosyncratic descriptions are riveting. Though several deaths occur in the book, the only real mystery is that of the murder of Francine's mother, which Francine overheard (near the novel's beginning) when she was seven. Instead, Rendell (Road Rage, etc.) focuses more on how a few sedately bizarre ticks can build exponentially into insanity. Francine's stepmother, for example, progresses from simple worry about her stepdaughter's well-being to obsessive anxiety that borders on dementia. Rendell follows the story's principal objects as closely as she does its characters: the diamond and sapphire engagement ring that Teddy's indifferent mother finds in a public bathroom; the video case in which Francine's mother hid her love letters, the painting of two young lovers that shows Teddy the perfect beauty he would kill for. Rendell leaves nothing and no one unaccounted for, from the looks given by the neighbors over the fence to the idle thoughts that pass through characters' minds when they scan a room. A tour-de-force of psychological suspense, the novel culminates in a dramatic climax that's as unforgettable as what has preceded it. Mystery Guild main selection; Literary Guild featured alternate; simultaneous audio and large print editions; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Dell; Reprint edition (March 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0440235448
  • ISBN-13: 978-0440235446
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (123 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,305 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 62 people found the following review helpful By RachelWalker on February 28, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A Sight for Sore Eyes is a crime novel that is also literature; it's a grim fairytale about corrupted beauty, a twisted yet beautiful love-story about two damaged people gradually moving together, with catastrophic consequences. I had read several of Rendell's books before I came to this several years ago, but this one was the first one I fell I love with. Normally, whenever anyone says "I couldn't put it down", that's just a stock sentence to convey some sense of the quality of the book, they don't actually MEAN that they physically couldn't put the book down. True cases are very very rare indeed, and they are nothing to do with physicality. Sometimes, though, books like this do come along, which cause you to suddenly realise it's five in the morning and you should have slept long ago. In these cases, yourself and the book have actually melded, briefly, into a whole. The book is an extension of the self, so remarkable as to almost seem forged in the mind, to seem, perhaps, to be only created as you are reading it. This is such a book. A book that is so gripping, whose universe is so totally convincing that you, in a sense, become it, to the ignorance of all other external stimuli.
It is the story of the lives of a group of people, most notably Francine Hill - who was in the house while her mother was shot by a man at the door, and who hid in a cupboard, only coming out to discover the bloodied body - and Teddy Grex - a young man who comes from a squalid, loveless family, who reveres beautiful objects and fine craftsmanship and tends to ignore the fact that other people exist around him. While, after his parent's deaths, Teddy lives in a world of almost unlimited freedom, Francine is virtually imprisoned by her obsessive, over-protective stepmother Julia.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I read this book because a friend practically forced me to read it. At first I was skeptical, but it took me only about twenty pages to get hooked. It is an artfully constructed narrative, complex yet never making a show of its complexity, full of dramatic irony and deadpan humor. I was surprised to find that one reviewer took this book to task for not having a good plot; on the contrary, it is one of most skillfully executed plots I've read in a long time. Rather than just give us the sketch of a plot - as so many writers do - Rendell seems to lavish infinite care on each turn of the narrative. I doubt there's a wasted word in the book. I swear I didn't know how it would end until the last twenty pages. Be warned, however, this isn't a mystery of the whodunit variety - it's almost a sort of tragedy, a study of the stifled lives of its two main protagonists. Rendell's vision of humanity in this book isn't reassuring: most of her characters aren't terribly sympathetic, and yet I couldn't help feeling a horrified pity for Teddy Brex. In many ways, this book is more horrific than most horror novels I've read. I've heard some people say this isn't her best - well, if that's so, I can't wait to read her other novels.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By M. G Jackson on February 9, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I highly recommend "A Sight For Sore Eyes" for literate, non-mystery readers in search of an absorbing novel that provides plenty of chills.

Over the last six months I have developed a minor obsession for the dark, obsessive books of Barbara Vine, not "mysteries" but disturbing and suspensful novels, for those like me who don't often read standard whodunits.

I thought I'd try one of the more standard mysteries of Vine's doppelganger, Ruth Rendell, and I was very satisfied with "A Sight For Sore Eyes". In fact, my highest praise for this book is that it reads like, well, a great Barbara Vine novel!

I will say that this book is creepier and more violent than the Vine books. Actually, it's REALLY CREEPY. As usual, the backstories of the characters are detailed and fascinating, opening up onto the present where their actions lead inexorably toward their doom. Rendell's prose is of the highest calibre, and she is devilish in the way she calibrates the expectations that her plotting develops in her reader, in order for her stunning surprises to be effective.

This is a rich reading experience.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By N. on October 12, 2009
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I'm shuddering a bit as I write this.

I've just finished reading this novel for the first time, and, although I've read many Rendell/Vine novels over the years, this is the first that has disturbed me enough to prompt me to write a review.

GENRE. This book was written by one of the acknowledged all-time greats of the Mystery genre: Ruth Rendell (aka Barbara Vine). Rendell takes her rightful place amongst giants like Agatha Christie and P.D. James. Like James, Rendell--and especially her nom de plume, Vine--is an unusually skillful and artful "profiler" of humankind and our species' various psychological states.

Yet, despite the Mystery pedigree, A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES is not a mystery, at least not in the sense of the literary genre. There is no mystery to solve (save for an incidental sub-plot murder that happened in the past), no clues, no (significant) police presence whatsoever. Well, let me amend that: there ARE clues, but all of them lead us toward an excavation of the human psyche, and the ways in which past events and life experiences contribute to behavioral/mental pathology. This book exemplifies the label "psychological thriller." However, if you read on, you'll see why I believe it could almost function as a Horror novel, in some respects.

STRUCTURE. If you have ever seen an episode of LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, but were to extract any mention of police or the criminal justice system, leaving us only with the criminal him/herself, you might have an idea of the structure of this novel. It is, simply put and without revealing any of the plot, the story of a sociopath: his early life, his thoughts, his behavior, his crimes, his pathology.
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