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The Killing Doll by Ruth Rendell
on 29 January 2006
It's quite hard to do a summary of this novel. As with all the best Ruth Rendell it conveys a very strong atmosphere of its own, of lonely, maladjusted people living lives alienated from mainstream society, and an awful lot of plot is packed into its 236 pages. On the minus side it can feel very disjointed at times. There is little sense of time in the whole book, and years go past in the twinkling of an eye, which can make you feel uninvolved. It's like watching a very weird soap opera on Fast Forward! At the centre of the story is Dolly, a young woman who feels removed from society because of a large birth-mark on her face. She ekes out a living doing dressmaking for friends and neighbours, she is a borderline alcoholic, and the centre of her whole lonely existence is her younger brother Peter (known as Pup) whom she adores to distraction.
Dolly believes that Peter is a master magician, who can solve all people's problems using spells, and even make people die or disappear. The truth is that Peter went through an adolescent phase of toying with magic, but lost interest when he discovered the charms of the opposite sex instead, (Peter has a neat line in chat-ups, he tells every woman he fancies that he is still a virgin and they must show him the ropes!). They live with their father, a widower, who spends most of his time reading historical novels. Although somehow he seems to come out of his books long enough to marry a much younger woman, Myra, who is on the rebound from an affair with a married man. It is Myra moving into the house, and disturbing their cosy set-up, that prompts Dolly to press Peter for her removal, a sort of assassination-by-magic. Also living in the neighbourhood is a young Irishman, Diarmit, who was left severely traumatised by an IRA bombing, and who is finding it increasingly hard to hang onto his own fragile identity. Things start to get decidedly worrying when he takes to carrying a little collection of knives around with him in an old Harrods bag, and hanging about down by the railway line.
If all this sounds a wee bit odd, well that's because it is. It doesn't stop it being very readable, although I found Dolly's constant sighting of "ghosts" tedious and annoying (this is an irritating plot-device, which the author was to use again many years later in "Adam And Eve And Pinch Me", and I do wish she would stop it!). Fans of Ruth Rendell, like myself, will find this a memorable book, but I wouldn't say it was one of her best.