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The House of Stairs Paperback – 11 May 1989

27 customer reviews

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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: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 157,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 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 Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 26 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Barbara Vine always sets her novels up very carefully, revealing just so much and no further in order to keep her readers poised on the verge of discovery. Though she sometimes lingers too long on this setting up, she is grand mistress of her genre. Where some might rush through this essential part of the novel, she takes her time. In one sense she has to do this because there are a characters that will move in and out of the action, providing a complex narrative, each with a part to play.

It is the sixties and a house where the host, Cosette, allows a great deal of freedom to her guests who come and go as they like. Elizabeth is the narrator through whom we are given access to much that happens. But then Elizabeth doesn't know everything, and some things she thinks she knows are distinctly wrong. Most of the details relating to what happens in this sixties novel are spot on. The candles which became de rigueur at a sixties party, the spliff smoked in the garden, passed round on a pin. Occasionally one wonders how well things might really have gone with such a mixture of ages in a house, but Cosette's largess rings true, especially after she finds love with a much younger man. Bell, who everyone thinks is his sister (Bell's lies haunt the novel's development) is not who she says she is, and slowly the backstory unravels, bringing a chilling end for one person, and the ruin of betrayal for another.

This is a chilling story altogether, another of Ruth Rendell's alter ego's profound successes.
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