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The Birthday Present Hardcover – 10 Mar 2009

4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 323 pages
  • Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books (10 Mar. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307451984
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307451989
  • Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 2.4 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,633,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Those who feel that Ruth Rendell's best writing is done under her Barbara Vine nom-de-plume (and there are many who do) will need little persuasion to pick up The Birthday Present. But the fact that this is something of a departure for the author -- under either of her names -- may give them pause.

Margaret Thatcher's days as prime minister are over, and the John Major era of the Conservative party is about to begin. The media is full of tales of sleaze and corruption, and it is not a good time to be a Tory Member of Parliament. However, Ivor Tesham is sanguine: money is no object to him; he is charismatic and attractive, and he is in the middle of a passionate affair. The fly in the ointment is the fact that this is an adulterous relationship: not a happy state of affairs when PM John Major has made 'Back to Basics' morality and 'Victorian Values' the new yardsticks for his variously philandering and kickback-taking MPs. Ivor and his lover -- the beautiful Hebe Furnal -- share a particular erotic predilection; a taste for bondage and the more risky extremes of sexuality. Ivor arranges for a mock kidnapping in line with the couple's games, but, needless to say (this is a Barbara Vine novel, after all), things quickly go pear-shaped, and Igor find that everything he holds dear is about to be stripped away from him.

As this synopsis suggests, Rendell is moving into even more incendiary territory than she has traversed before, and the political element makes the experiment even more piquant. Those who know Rendell's association with the Labour Party (she is a working peer) might assume that a novel which rekindles all the sleaze of the last Tory government (particularly when the latest incarnation of the party is riding high in the polls) is a political act, but Rendell/Vine is far too sophisticated a writer to fall into that trap. In fact, this is one of the most ingenious and disturbing books. As often before with her, the stake for the central character could not be higher and it is impossible not to be drawn into the plight of the beleaguered Ivor (not for the first time, we are reminded of the author’s distinguished American predecessor Patricia Highsmith). The Birthday Present,disturbing as it is, will sit happily on your shelves alongside all the other Barbara Vine titles -- and if you don't possess them, why not? --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

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 (Daily Telegraph )

A superb and original writer (Amanda Craig, Express ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Birthday Present is Ruth Rendell's 13th novel writing as
Barbara Vine,and is set during the tail-end of Thatcher's government.
It concerns an ambitious rising star in her government,who is also
something of a philanderer with 'lively' sexual preferences.He arranges a birthday present for his lover, an attractive young married woman,
which consists in arranging for her to be kidnapped ,gagged and bound and delivered to his sister's residence.Things do not go to plan,and the tense plot involves cover-ups and subterfuge until a few years later much of the truth is revealed with dire consequences.
Whilst this is a gripping tale,full of suspense,superbly written and constructed,and well worth reading, for me it lacked the consummate psychological acuity of the very best of Barbara Vine.
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Format: Hardcover
Barbara Vine never fails to write an engrossing tale. Her writing is as good as it gets, and she builds a gripping story. The reader is carried along, not knowing where he or she is going, but unable to stop reading.

This new novel is essentially a character study of two people --- a rising star in the Conservative Party heirarchy, and a lonely young woman whose life and sanity are rapidly crumbling; but these two central threads fit into a more complex mosaic that includes Vine's typically keen characterizations as well as some biting political commentary.

This is not to say that there's an endorsement of a political viewpoint or issue. The book is more a look at how appearances trump substance in politics. It doesn't matter so much what you've done; it's how that is perceived, how it's spun in the media. It's all about perception.

I thoroughly enjoyed this, as I do almost everything Vine has written, and highly recommend it for her fans.
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Format: Hardcover
I have been a bit disappointed by the Vine/Rendell output of later years but this one is not half bad, I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than Chief Inspector Wexfords's twenty first century outings.

The plot here, revolves around the horrific and multiple consequences of The Birthday Present of the title. For spoiler reasons the nature of the present cannot be told, but it is unusual, imaginative and inventive....surely what any girl wants, as a change from the usual perfume or chocs!!
It is different alright and had it gone as the giver, a well known MP, had planned, well then, the recipient his married girlfriend might have gone orgasmic with joy!! Literally.
It goes wrong. Somebody or bodies die. Enter a bunny boiler type anxious to suck up to the troubled MP, she really is a nut case, but I don't find her over the top ridiculous I found her and her controlling Mum believable.
As we expect from this author the London settings are very well described and the insider knowledge of the House of Commons is interesting.
There are a lot of believable characters drawn in depth, unlike some other of Vine/RR's latter work, there is plot there is suspense and there is a good ending.
I recommend this one, especially if you can borrow it or get it cheap. No way is it another Dark Adapted Eye but its a satisfying yarn nevertheless. There is also a very good audio book about, but I cannot find it on Amazon, it is narrated by Paul Blake and Ruth Silley and done very well
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By Bluebell TOP 500 REVIEWER on 8 April 2009
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book and was reminded again why Ruth Rendell writing as herself or, as here, as Barbara Vine is the mistress of her art. The narrative never flags and I, for one, couldn't wait to find out what happened next in the story. She maintains a sense of dread and tension until the end. At first I had to get used to the alternating between the two voices who tell the story, but the writing makes it clear within a sentence or two. She's also so good at creating characters, particularly those who are odd, perverted or creepy.
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By SilentSinger TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 3 Nov. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ruth Rendell, writing under the pseudonym of Barbara Vine steps away from her other novels and manages to create a sense of intrigue and suspense. The Birthday Present, Vine's thirteenth novel, doesn't disappoint and draws the reader in with the story of Ivor Tesham, a rising star of Thatcher's 1980s Government, whose affair with an attractive married woman and his special `present' to her, causes a chain of disastrous events to unfold. The story is told via the viewpoint of two contrasting narrators: Jane, the friend and solid `alibi' for her friend's affair and Ivor's own brother-in-law, a pleasant, unassuming family man who provides a good juxtaposition against Ivor's ambitious and unpleasant character.

I'm a huge fan of all the Barbara Vine novels and I absolutely loved this book and found myself looking forward to bedtime, so that I could curl up with this delicious novel. It's a book that stays with you for ages after it ends and this in my opinion, is the hallmark of a brilliant writer - long may the Vine novels continue!
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Format: Hardcover
(I intended four stars but I can't change it back. Oh well.)

The Birthday Present has probably been the book I was most looking forward to in 2008, especially considering how good Rendell's last effort under the Vine name - The Minotaur - was. Sadly, this doesn't get within a long creeping tendril's distance of the quality.

It's early 1990. The Thatcher government it's nearing it's last days, and there's a love affair going on. Ivor Tesham, a thirty-year-old political rising star is secretly bedding beautiful London housewife Hebe Furnal. For her birthday Ivor decides to give her a special present that certain more open couples have begun to engage in: a practice known as `adventure sex'. Hebe is to be abducted, consenting but unknowing of when, at an unknown venue and time, bound and gagged, then delivered to her lover at a specified location... The decision to "treat" Hebe to this fashionable new thrill is one that will lead to tragedy touching the lives of several people, least of all Tesham's.

The Birthday Present is an odd beast among the Vine canon, almost entirely unlike any of her other, which normally feature hidden, secret crimes of the past, dark, cloudy tragedies recollected in the present or some further point, that gradually become unfolded to reveal something horrific. This, however, is more a political satire-cum-thriller. It is, admittedly, absolutely full of many of the things one would expect of a Vine novel: a brilliant conveyance of the psychology of its many characters, and a demonstration of a remarkable insight into the time-period in which it is set. The characters, with their weaknesses and leavening normalities, are of course brilliantly written. As is the portrait of a primarily self-obsessed early-nineties era.
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