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The Child's Child: A Novel Hardcover – December 4, 2012
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Ruth Rendell, writing as Barbara Vine, offers a puzzle box of a suspense tale, in which themes and characters keep recurring from novels of Victorian times to those of contemporary London. The title itself is that of a novel within the novel, partially set in wartime London. Grace Easton is a privileged young Londoner, working on her doctoral thesis about the horrific treatment of unwed mothers in Victorian novels. She and her gay brother, Andrew, live together, and, very soon, Andrew invites an irresistibly handsome but loathsome man to live with them. This lover-lodger has contempt for Grace’s research, saying that gay men have always faced more hardships. Quicker than you can say “coincidence,” Grace reads an unpublished novel about the treatment of gays and unwed mothers in the 1930s and ’40s. Then a friend of Andrew’s and James’ is killed by homophobes, and Grace becomes an unwed mother. Readers may recoil at how mechanical the plot devices are here. The biggest flaw, however, is the voice of young Grace, who sounds like a fusty dowager, using words like albeit. Still, Vine offers an absorbing embedded novel and a great deal of fascinating and convincing literary and social history. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Rendell/Vine attracts a committed and sizable audience, even when she’s not at her best. --Connie Fletcher
“The Rendell/Vine partnership has for years been producing consistently better work than most Booker winners put together.” (Ian Rankin)
“Barbara Vine is Ruth Rendell letting rip.” (The Daily Telegraph (UK))
"A novel by Ruth Rendell (or her literary alter ego, Barbara Vine) is like none other..... The results are seldom what we expect them to be, and that is part of this author's special genius." (Robert Croan Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
"Vine vividly conjures the high price paid by social outcasts, even in our own supposedly enlightened age." (People magazine (3 1/2 stars))
"Just a cracking good read." (Charlotte Observer)
"Ruth Rendell, whether writing her mystery novels or molting into Barbara Vine and burrowing deep into réalité intérieure, has always written thoughtful novels on the consequences of our choice." (The Daily Beast)
"In the hands of Vine, otherwise known as Ruth Rendell, the book-within-a-book strategy evolves into something infinitely more intricate — a sinister, constantly shifting Rubik's Cube of motives, betrayals, and violence. Grade A" (Tina Jordan Entertainment Weekly)
"A study of taboos of the past and the growing tolerance of the present -- except when open-mindedness is absent -- The Child's Child encompasses darkness and light -- and simultaneously offers diverting fiction with thought-provoking but never preachy purpose." (Richmond Times Dispatch)
''Subtle'' is an inadequate word for Ruth Rendell. So are 'crafty,' 'cunning,' 'clever' and 'sly.' Although these are accurate descriptions of her confounding technique, a better word would be 'surprising.' Whatever it is you might think Rendell is up to, especially when she's writing as Barbara Vine -- that's not it." (Marilyn Stasio New York Times Book Review)
"Not even fans who expect more felonies will be able to put this one down." (Kirkus)
"These last pages are as thrilling as anything Vine or Rendell has ever written. As for the rest, they are simply superb. She can make your blood boil or run cold at will." (Evening Standard (UK))
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The Child's Child boils over with intrigue and taught psychological suspense (one of the things I've always adored about rendell/vine's writing). This is not a cheery story as its main focus are individuals who are in danger of being ostracized or even driven to self destruction because of society's inability to tolerate or condone their circumstances or predilections. Rendell often makes stunning analogies and in this case it's between the plight of a young unwed pregnant woman and her tormented homosexual brother. Both are in startlingly different yet similar positions and Vine jolts them to life with fresh vivid prose and then careens back to the 21st century to ensnare their stories with Grace's. This book could have been tedious or maudlin or even too clinical considering the subject matter but the author is so adept at pumping blood into her characters while simultaneously dismembering them. She tears them apart so kindly, so gently, like a stealthy surgeon she reaches in, revealing scars, revealing raw nerves, dead dreams and all too often, a shattered leaking heart.
This new novel contains some of Vine's most memorable and compelling characters -- characters thrown to the devil, characters who erupt before your eyes, and at times I had to pause while reading, for I was overcome with emotion for these ill-fated phantoms as they went on searching for salvation in a wicked, wicked world.
But the manuscript Grace reads is so poignant and compelling, the complaint about the framing story feels like a quibble. This manuscript, The Child's Child, is a novel written in 1951. It's never published because of it's depiction of homosexuality. It's story mirrors the contemporary one. John is the favored son of a very religious Methodist family who casts out their 15 year old daughter when she becomes pregnant. John, a teacher, is homosexual and keeps it a secret from family and work colleagues. He and his sister go to the community where he's just gotten a new teaching job and live as husband and wife. He is very in love with a caddish, uneducated but beautiful young man named Bertie. Hoping that his sister's sense of disgrace will make her sympathetic toward him, he tells her his secret. Alas, she turns out to be very bit as horrified and desirous of respectability as her censorious family. There is a murder in this book but it is not a murder mystery. Both stories are stories of family and betrayal a theme that will sustain novels for as long as they are written. Rendell also talks a bit about the novels Grace is reading for her dissertation. It would be great if people unfamiliar with Gaskell's Mary Barton and Eliot's Adam Bede discovered those novels as well
I found the characters quite dull and the device of setting the earlier novel( which parallels the relationships among the current characters) just doesn't work. By the time you get back to the present after spending most of the novel in the 1950 s, I had completely forgotten who they were..and frankly didn't care.
The novel ended abruptly but I was quite pleased to be done with it.
What a shame that Rendell seems to have lost her touch.