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Portobello: A Novel Hardcover – September 7, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. London's Portobello Road, a street fabled for its shops and outdoor market, provides the backdrop for Edgar-winner Rendell's superlative suspense novel, which features a cast of colorful characters from varied classes and walks of life. Secretive 50-year-old Eugene Wren, who's addicted to cheap candy lozenges, is toying with marrying his longtime girlfriend, physician Ella Cotswold. Rootless Lance Platt cases the neighborhood for costly homes he can break into, and clashes with his great-uncle, Gilbert Gibson, a former burglar who now preaches the gospel. One man's losing 115 pounds triggers a series of coincidences that brings this disparate lot closer together, toward haphazard violence and death. Rendell (The Water's Lovely) is particularly adept at portraying young people just a dole check away from homelessness as well as the carelessness and callousness of the book's upper-middle-class characters. Her style has become ever more spare while retaining its subtle psychology and vivid sense of place.
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From Booklist

Rendell writes better when she writes shorter. Most of her novels and short stories, for which she is justly acclaimed (she has won three Edgars as well as three Gold Daggers and one Diamond Dagger), have been minimalist works of suspense genius, the kind where you look around the room wonderingly when Rendell sinks in the shiv of surprise. In this novel, Rendell has relaxed a great deal, spending pages on bits of business (for example, the current hero likes a particular kind of snack) that would have been swiftly dealt with in her earlier work. This is a novel that should have been a short story about a man who finds an envelope filled with money. He doesn’t need it—he’s inherited his father’s wealth from a print shop in the Portobello Road—so he posts “Found” notices around the extensive Portobello street market. This act, of course, leads to a series of encounters with other Londoners, some of them dangerous. Rendell fans want to read everything she writes, but this overpadded tale is not among her best work. --Connie Fletcher

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Hardcover edition (September 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439148511
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439148518
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,040,724 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I imported Portobello from the UK in an excess of impatience to read the new Rendell, and I am thrilled to report it is horrific, claustrophobic, and yes, droll in turns. Rendell's genius still burns brightly, her sharp edge is unblunted, and we readers may rejoice, while compulsively turning the pages in a chill of ever-increasing dread. In this wicked tale, a well-to-do art gallery owner, Eugene Wren, is hiding a secret addiction from his doctor fiancee, Ella. He finds an envelope containing money and posts an ad, whereupon his fiancee becomes professionally embroiled with the owner of the envelope, Joel, whom we realize is, yes, insane. Meanwhile, a petty thief and burglar, Lance, is on the prowl in Eugene's wealthy neighborhood. Lance is living with his parsimonious Uncle Gib, a reformed thief now member of a fundamentalist church. Lance and Uncle Gib provide much of the comic relief. Goodness knows we need it, as Ella the caring doctor becomes disturbingly involved with Joel, whose madness is growing worse. There are burglaries, murders, drowning of a child, the firebombing of a house, and a pilfered chocolate cake. Tragedy is juxtaposed with absurdity, as in Eugene's terrible addiction to - sugar-free sweets, the euphoniously named Chocorange. The well off characters have the luxury of obsessing over imagined ills, while ignoring the unlocked garden gate, which will, we know, lead to real grief. The lower class characters get by on cunning, ruthlessness, and the dole; while the comfortably cocooned upper classes are chattering and, utterly naive about what it takes to survive, are the natural prey of the lowlifes who haunt the Portobello Road area. It is as if Theodore Dalrymple's social commentary were wedded to Ruth Rendell's story-telling talents. All told, a marvelous read, with a richly satisfying conclusion.
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Format: Hardcover
The latest suspense novel from my favorite mystery writer is my favorite kind of mystery. It isn't part of her wonderful Wexford series, but a stand-alone story of a broad cross-section of Londoners who become involved in one another's lives, seemingly by accident (think of her titles like THE KEYS TO THE STREET and ADAM AND EVE AND PINCH ME). There's something almost Dickensian about this story, with rich and poor living and working in such close quarters, all in or near London's famous Portobello Road. A lost envelope full of cash and a Good Samaritan's spontaneous act of kindness are the inciting actions in this rich tapestry, leading to love, hatred, obsession, and--of course--murder for the huge, varied cast of characters.

Ruth Rendell is more than a mystery writer. In several recent books, she has provided a remarkable social commentary on today's world, and she works her brilliant observations of human nature into her brilliant plots. PORTOBELLO is amazing, start to finish. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
I have admired Ruth Rendell's novels of psychological suspense for years and have read all of them including those she writes under her pseudonym Barbara Vine. PORTOBELLO is as expertly written as her previous works but I didn't find any of the characters or their situations particularly compelling and a few of the plot points even seemed a bit forced and unlikely.

Set somewhere around the present day in London's Notting Hill the book is comprised of several different personalities from divergent social groups who unexpectedly interact. We meet a middle aged wealthy art dealer, his medical doctor girlfriend, an elderly ex convict turned religious devotee, the mentally unstable son of a famous businessman who has disowned him, an unemployed man in his twenties living off the dole while supplementing it with some illegal activities and a self-sufficient eighty something woman who surprises her neighbors by having a male companion plus quite a few more. All these characters somehow have a connection and the catalyst for all this is some money found that the bored finder decides to complicate for his amusement.

Since I am a dedicated Rendell fan I am glad I took the time to read this novel as I enjoyed it more than a lot of "thrillers" currently being published. However I do not recommend this novel to people new to Rendell. So many of her other novels feature more compelling plot lines and believable characters to engage prospective readers not yet hooked on her writing.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When Ruth Rendell sinks her writer's pit bull teeth into a juicy psychoses, neuroses, obsession, or addiction, she'll gnaw on it, fret with it, and with great glee hook her readers into her abnormal mystery world view. In "Portobello" her character Eugene Wren has an addiction to the diet sweet Chocorange, and his habit becomes so detailed and so frequently dwelt upon in the book, that the reader almost feels compelled to noodge Rendell and say, "Tone it back, babe." Of course one wouldn't because she is a baroness who sits in the House of Lords. She'll be 81 in February of 2011. Prolific, you bet, 24 novels, 22 Inspector Wexfords, and 13 as Barbara Vine.
In this one she does a beautiful job of recreating London's Saturday and Sunday street market and the everyday life of this sometimes seedy and creepy street. Rendell says, "Eccentricity is the norm in the Portobello Road" as it is in her writing.
Eugene finds a wad of money in the street, advertises it, but doesn't say the amount he has found. When Eugene gets a call, he stupidly invites the supposed owner, Lance Platt, a petty crook and female abuser, to his house to tell him the correct amount. Lance gives the wrong amount, is ushered to the door, but not before Lance is able to case the joint for a future break-in.
Eugene's girlfriend is Ella, a doctor, who is a chump for a sob story. Joel Roseman, a phobia-ridden neurotic correctly identifies the amount of money, and Ella brings the money from Eugene to Joel in the hospital. Joel's a very needy person so she becomes his personal doctor. Meanwhile Eugene scours all of the local stores for his addictive treat Chocorange, and we, as readers, go with him on many, too many, of these quests. He feels very guilty about buying bags of the stuff, and he can't get enough of it.
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