Customer Reviews: A Fatal Inversion
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on November 3, 2002
The ephemeral bygone quality of Ms. Vine's characters during their summer long idyll at Wyvis Hall reminded me of Anthony Powell's dream-like but objective viewings. The author toys with us in this complex novel. The reader spends two-thirds of the book not mulling over what has happened, but what is going to happen.
New owners of beautiful Wyvis Hall uncover human bones in the pet cemetery on the grounds of the estate. This sets in motion events which have been hidden for the past eleven years. The story goes back and forth from the present to the fateful summer of 1976. The tale is told from the viewpoints of Adam, Rufus and Shiva. Adam earns his father's undying enmity by inheriting his great-uncle's estate Wyvis Hall when he is 19. Adam with casual friend, Rufus drives down from London just intending to have a look at the property and going on for holidays in Greece. The estate works its magic on the young men and their stay extends to the entire summer. They sell off items in the house to keep themselves in money, drink quantities of wine, laze about and keep the world at bay. The party enlarges to include Zosie, a fey childlike homeless girl, Shiva, a highly proper Indian and his companion, the mystic Vivienne.
The reader knows something is going to happen this summer because of the prologue when the bones are discovered. But what? We know the event has had a profound effect upon Adam and Shiva that has entirely changed their lives. Rufus seems to have escaped unscathed and is living according to his original plan. None of the characters are particularly likable, let alone lovable. We don't connect with them, but do feel this terrible unease as the tale unfolds. The buildup is masterful, the horror is cataclysmic and the epilogue is chilling. Contrary to a few of the reviews posted here, this book does not have a "happy" ending at all.
Ms. Vine/Rendell deserves all the prizes she received for this craftily constructed novel. Some of the issues touched upon are profound; yet we are never allowed to be sidetracked into a case of the existential vapors. Recommended.
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on March 4, 2012
I have read many of the Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine novels, and I have found all of them to be quite well written and very entertaining. However, Fatal Inversion truly stood out, both in terms of entertainment and deeper meaning.

Most of her books share a unique style of mystery, whereby it is less "who done it" than "what is the missing piece here." You could say the mystery is typically, "What is the mystery?"

In Fatal Inversion, this turns out to be truly stunning, ironic, and, if you choose to stop and think about it, quite profound. We meet a cast of very believable characters from the era of upheaval that struck our society two thirds of the way through the past century. Not a single character is two dimensional; in fact, each is a credible person who would have fit in with the real people I knew in those times. We follow some of the characters over the years that follow, and the trajectories of their lives ring perfectly true.

When I read the ending of the book, my emotional satisfaction was similar to what I have often felt upon completing a great short story such as "The Necklace" or "The Monkey's Paw." But the story lingers with me beyond that initial reaction, striking at something much deeper, and coming to mind at the oddest times. The story has truly added perspective to my understanding of real life people I knew back then, important distinctions between the kinds of people that populated those times of turmoil.

I am convinced that this is a novel that deserves a far greater reputation than it has received.
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on August 1, 2005
No one can create an atmosphere of tension like Ms. Rendell writing as Barbara Vine. I know as soon as I begin one of her books, that I'm on an unstoppable ride until the very last pages. This particular book is wonderfully written, and there's a nifty little surprise at the end. The best thing about Barbara Vine is the way she unfolds her plots, and weaves past and present together so it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. She also has an uncanny way of building the scene for her books, so that readers feel that they are right there where the usually horrible act occurs. The fun is in the unravelling of the mystery. In this book we have five young people spending an idyllic summer at a grand country estate. Irrevocable occurences happen during this summer of 1976 which come back to haunt these people almost eleven years later. Tensions and stress build and build until the final shocking ending. Great stuff!
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on March 26, 2012
I just discovered this book and author from a brief blurb in the Wall Street Journal [I often pick up books from the short reviews there] and from the moment I started it, I was unable to stop reading. It's much more than a mystery, but, in my mind, historical, literary fiction with a potent story line and surprise ending. Ms. Vine writes beautifully, her descriptions of weather and nature absolutely lovely, of people and personalities fascinating. She is extremely gifted because to weave different time periods and different points of view throughout the story in the seamless way she has is a major feat. Not many writers do this successfully. As another critic wrote, she never takes the forward movement of the novel away in spite of the changing perspectives and time frames. I thought the story quite believable for the time and the characters very well drawn. I always felt right inside the brain of whoever was doing the thinking or talking. A wonderful and surprising book and I hope this author gets more recognition. It's a much better read than most things on the market right now. I intend to read other works by Ms. Vine.
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on June 25, 1998
*A Fatal Inverstion* does not follow any of the formulas so common in today's mystery fiction. Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) tells a uniquely horrifying and suspenseful story. Moving between the present and the past (ten years ago when the obligatory deaths occurred) in a very fluid and dynamic way, she makes the characters and events of this wonderful book come alive (no pun intended). I wanted to know what happened, and what was *going* to happen...and I wasn't sure I *really* wanted to know --- how horrible would it be? I could not put this book down!
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on September 22, 2002
This is another excellent book from Ruth Rendell...the plot creeps along like a wounded shadow, unsettling the reader as ONLY Rendell can. The characters are developed very well, quirks and all.
The writing is brilliant, and Rendell manages not just to make Wyvis Hall a brooding force over the novel, but almost a character all in itself.
the book is mysterious, suspenseful, beautifull written, with a powerful narrative drive, and with some really great twists along the way which challenge all our assumptions about what we have read. The final chapter is positively chilling.
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on February 9, 2016
I know I'm in the minority here, but try as I might, I just couldn't get into this book. I kept putting it down and forcing myself to pick it up again. I'm new to reading Ruth Rendell and, while I've really liked some of her books, others were just so-so. I would categorize this one as somewhere between really liked and so-so. I was bothered by the switch between present day and past because it was not in a way that was easily followed. The switches would come in the same paragraph so I often had to stop to try to figure out where I was in this story. The characters were all pretty unlikeable and mostly one dimensional. It was only in the last few pages that things happened. And I will admit, the ending was a surprise.
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on December 27, 2013
I enjoy a good murder mystery now and then. This is not that. This is better. Barbara Vine (a.k.s. Ruth Rendell) writes about murders, but not as who-dun-its, rather why'd-they- do-its. This book is one I have read a couple of times. It is enjoyable. And like life, we don't all get our just desserts. I truly never saw the ending coming - and not because the author just lamely took a turn. Vine creates characters we've all known, and then lets us peak through their windows, to see a bit of what they're up to.

I don't usually read Rendell - but I love Vine - same person, but writes as two completely different people. The Vine stories are compelling, and very much character driven. (Should you try this book and like it, try "Minotaur" as well - you'll feel like one of the neighbors, shaking your head and speculating well into the night.)
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on August 25, 2014
This is one of my favorite books by Barbara Vine. I love the way she writes about her characters. She really makes you want to know what happens to them. I did not like these people. They were the youth of the era in which they lived, but as they became adults, realized there were consequences to their youthful actions.
Also, a real surprise ending. I was reading along too fast as I really wanted to know what was going to happen. Then I reached the end. My reaction was WHAT? I had to go back and re-read a few pages. I still had to think about it for a bit. It was great. A really good book.
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on December 25, 2013
having lived in england,,i gloried in her descriptions. i loved her use of place names and people. she really built the characters and the story in a lengthy way,,,but it brought me back to my salad days. she built ever so, so slowly to her conclusion,,,that i was truly surprised. sometimes, her stories are bit hard to believe,,,about really sick characters.,,but all these characters were credible. if you love the english countryside and her descriptions of all the flowers,,,this is the book for you.
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