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The House of Stairs Paperback – 11 May 1989


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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (11 May 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140114467
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140114461
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 2 x 18.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 40,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By S. Hapgood VINE VOICE on 3 Jan. 2004
Format: Paperback
What I like about Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell is that she has revolutionised modern mystery writing. She takes her time with her plots and her characters, and as a consequence is able to weave a complicated web that is rich in texture. "The House of Stairs" largely concerns a middle-aged lady called Cozette, who has lived her life in a state of middle-class respectability. When her husband dies though she decides to throw caution to the wind and have some of the fun she should have had when she was young. She rents a house in London, the House of Stairs of the title, and fills it with offbeat people to put the colour into her life that she craves. Naturally not all of them have her best interests at heart. Not only is this a first-rate psychological puzzle in the best Vine tradition, but it gives an evocative insight into the world of Swinging Sixties London. I read somebody describing Vine as a modern-day Wilkie Collins, and I can't argue with that. Away from the mysteries though she also makes me think in other ways too, such as when she mentions that the best sunsets are often to be found in cities. Strangely, that's true!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By sam155 TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 28 July 2004
Format: Paperback
I love Vine's books, but whilst I am reading one,I do nothing else. A friend first recommended The House of Stairs and I virtually didn't speak again for three days when I finally finished it. The descriptions are so evocative and detailed, it is almost impossible not to think that the house in Archanagel Place is real. The plot revolves largely round the pampered, but generous,Cosette, a middle aged widow seeking her lost youth. A tender love story unfolds, and the descriptions of the London social scene and the bright young things that populated it in the sixties, make you feel as if you are in the room. The whole story is narrated by Cosette's friend, Elizabeth, who is like a surrogate daughter to her, and whose own secret colours the way she looks at life. So far so good, but throw into this mix the lawless and beautiful Bell, who we know from the start is a murderess and your heart is in your mouth throughout the book. You know someone dies, but who is it? and how? and when? By the time you get attached to a character you think "is it going to be them?" "is she going to do it now?" and the whole book becomes a breathtaking triumph in suspense, atmosphere, tragedy, and love. Buy it, you won't forget it.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 20 Feb. 2003
Format: Paperback
One of the reasons that I prefer Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine (rather than under her own name) is that there is always an underlying 'creepiness' in all Barbara Vine's books, rather than out-and-out murder. The House of Stairs is no exception. The story portrays raw evil in the form of the grey, steely, 'Belle', a woman able to fool both the unsuspecting Elizabeth, and also the sweet, innocent, kind-hearted Cozette. The author builds up the suspense in this story until I found that I was unable to put the book down, actually feeling compelled to read on until the truth about Belle was finally revealed. This story is one of love and betrayal, friendship and deceit;, four factors that work independently to change forever the lives of all involved. Brilliant!
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 7 Oct. 2000
Format: Paperback
I think Barbara Vine is one of the greatest novelists working today-- never mind her lofty status as a mystery writer. "The House of Stairs" is,like her other books, tremendously but unobtrusively literary. The plot involves an ingenious twist on Henry James's "The Wings of the Dove." But "The House of Stairs" is much more than an adaptation of James; it's a very modern thriller with an extremely original cast of characters-- definitely one of Vine's most interesting works.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lady Fancifull TOP 500 REVIEWER on 10 Jan. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"I seemed to see Bell as she was almost the first time I ever saw her, walking into the hall at Thornham to tell us that her husband had shot himself"

From the first chapter of The House of Stairs........and yes, it's a great hookline!

I read this many years ago, and a blogger reminded me of its excellence, hence my re-read, and because I know the outcome/conclusion could settle back and enjoy the journey Vine takes us on.

It was originally published in 1988, and was I think the third book Rendell wrote as `Barbara Vine', where her interest is more in dark and complex psychology and a more literary style of writing than her crime and detective fiction `Ruth Rendell' books. Detectives rarely figure in Vine, but the complex central characters twist and unfold often dark deeds, dark motivations, dark histories

This is firstly a splendid evocation of loose, permissive, vibrant and sexy 60s London.

Elizabeth, the central character and narrator, now a woman on the edge of her 40s, is looking back from the 1980s to that earlier period of her life. She is a writer of beach read historical fiction, fairly famous, fairly well off. However, she hankered to be a more serious writer, due to her love of Henry James, and really also wished to write a biography of James. Echoes of the plot of James' Wings of The Dove are a kind of parallel or subtext to this.

Elizabeth, as a passenger in a taxi spots a woman heading towards a tube station who she has not seen for nearly 20 years. `Bell' Sanger has a murky past, and there is also a relationship from that past of some obsession, on Elizabeth's part, with Bell.
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