on 1 March 2012
I agree with many of the other reviewers that this novel is essentially dull, lacks the tension of some of Rendell's earlier standalone novels, and that the dialogue is wooden in places. It also places too much emphasis on coincidence. I did not see all of the ending coming, but parts of it were beginning to dawn...
My main beef is, though, that this novel is anachronistic in places. Why would a young female character in 2004 be wandering around London with a floppy disk in her handbag? Why does no one ever use the internet for reading news, making purchases, or indeed anything? This strikes me as more 1994 than 2004. My guess is that the author had the work lying around as an unfinished manuscript, and certain events of 2004 gave her part of the ending she needed, and so it was removed from mothballs and published in 2006. That, and the two different descriptions of the bath in which Guy was drowned, grate on me. Small things, maybe, but they add up the conclusion that Rendell's novels are not the tour de force they once were. In summary, not recommended. Too clunky by half.
on 21 February 2011
This is a fascinating read, full of chilling observations about human relationships, and what we will endure for the sake of 'love'.
The story meanders all over the place, seemingly unfocussed, but in retrospect this is a clever device that makes the disparate characters' lives seem more believeable. By the end, they have meshed together into a frightening indictment of the state of the male/female relationship in 21st century Britain. Only one couple emerge with any real credit or dignity.
There is a wholly unexpected ending, one that is shockingly random and unjust. It is to Rendell's credit that she doesn't join all the dots, but leaves the reader to mull the story over, and draw their own sad conclusions.
Overall the plot is too reliant on co-incidence, and there are some whoppers, but if this doesn't worry you, and you don't mind feeling haunted and miserable after the downbeat ending, then take a dip ... 'The Water's Lovely'
on 29 April 2014
Having not read a Ruth Rendell book for over twenty years I was surprised and disappointed at the contrast between this book and some of her earlier work like Live Flesh, which I much admired. As other reviewers have noted, the plot is far too dependent on coincidences, and the characters are only developed to the extent that they serve the creaking plot. None of the characters engages much sympathy and some are deeply unpleasant [if two dimensional characters can be described as deeply anything]. The circumstances of the incident which is central to the book will be anticipated by most readers long before the denouement.
Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the novel though are the minor errors and inconsistencies which trip up the reader. A passage involving the central character's credit card is also baffling. Clearly this sort of thing should have been picked up by the publisher's reader, but may also denote a talent in decline.
After a few pages I looked to see when this book had been published, expecting some date in the 70s or even earlier, but no actually in the noughties! I think there is a good plot and a sense of menace, but oh dear the characters just don't ring true for me. I am not particularly young, but know young people (or even older ones like me) just don't talk or think as Issy and Heather do in this book. The "young men" types are from the 60s/70s too - it read as if it were set in the past to me. I feel this is a case of an older person remembering what it was like to be young in her day, rather than now. I would suggest setting it in an historical time she was familar with would have worked better and rang true. This just doesn't work for me, the concerns are not the concerns of young people now, the way they speak or the things they worry about - sorry keep to writing about older people or write from an historical perspective, I didn't enjoy it at all.
Give Ruth Rendell credit, she doesn't shrink from heavy investment in unsavory characters and unhappy endings in pursuit of solid psychological thrillers. "The Water's Lovely" is certainly one of these literary ugly ducklings, minus the beautiful swan at the ending.
The characters in "The Water's..." are largely unappealing and unsympathetic--loathesome in some instances, but the story of two sisters and their dubious friends, spirtually wounded relatives and dangerous acquaintenances does hold your attention, in much the same way that an evolving train wreck might. By the end of the book, the reader is worn out and appalled at what has transpired, but certainly not unaffected.
I have enjoyed other Rendell books more, but "The Water's Lovely" has my admiration for its audacity to be different and flagrantly disagreeable. Not for everyone, I would say. Most loyal Rendell fans will appreciate it though.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
I love Ruth Rendell's books (check out my listmania list) and I found the style of this novel well up to standard and pure Rendell. No complaints there!
For me, a plot doesn't always have to be totally believable - after all this is a work of fiction and, unlike some reviewers, my enjoyment comes far more from the prose, characters and relationships than from whether some minute detail in the plot is feasible. However, and it is a big however, the reliance on coincidence to resolve this story is totally incredible and spoilt the story for me.
I also felt extremely irritated by Marion and all her dancing and twirling. In fact, I found it impossible to visualise her as a real character and it reminded me very much of the continual, profoundly annoying, hand washing and bathing in Rendells earlier book, Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, which drove me insane. For an ex copper Barry seems non too bright either (as other reviewers have commented!).
If you regularly read Rendell, you will almost certainly enjoy it. If you want to read a Rendell for the first time there are better examples of her work which will get you hooked. The Tree of Hands, The Crococile Bird and A Sight for Sore Eyes are probably three of her best.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
An odd chestnut, this. I wait patiently for my annual Rendell fix, knowing that the book will *always* be good, and that I won't read another one like it in the whole year (always true of these criminally underappreciated standalone novels). Though I'm slightly perplexed to say that, after finishing this, I wasn't as thrilled with it as I had hoped, and it's hard for me to say quite why. The problem, I think, may be for me a lack of tension. I found things slightly slow, not particularly explosive as a Rendell novel is. There is always the sense of some impending catastrophe to come, however far away you don't know, some terrific crash as the storylines fray and skitter and flail across one another briefly with Rendellian consequences, but here there not only wasn't the catastrophe, but there wasn't even a sense that there was going to be one, or that anything particularly momentous was going to happen. The only real tension is eked out from the question of, Will Ismay ever confront Heather to find out exactly what went on? This is sutained through the whole thing, the only real suspense (for me). The fact that the whole thing could have been sorted out by a single conversation seemed to me a little...damp.
I feel guilty. Not enthusing about a Rendell novel as I normally can be relied on to do. But The Water's Lovely lacks some Rendell spark, I felt. Or maybe it should just have been shorter. I was also mildly put off by a rather smacking coincidence, and the stilted, unrealistic way some of the characters talked to one another - "I shall be taking Heather out tonight, mother" - (which has never been Rendell's problem before). Though that didn't bother me as much as the fact that Rendell didn't really run with the wonderful scenario she'd come up with.
I liked it, of course. Liked it a lot. Rendell's writing is excellent, her characters always fascinating and tragic, her psychology riveting. But other elements weren't present and correct, which made this, for me, her weakest standalone for some time. Maybe even a very, very long time. Nevertheless: Rendell on a below-par day is five times better than 80% of what's out there, so I can still reccomend this as a worthwhile read. Clever, interesting, unpredictable, but without any of the ice-cold shock moments that her books normally have.
on 11 March 2015
Vintage Rendell! I loved it! Surprisingly not a Barbara Vine. Yes, there were some coincidences and Marion reminded me of Myra from the Killing Doll, and Fowler could have stepped from The Keys to the Street....and I would love to have known more about Beatrice....BUT the characterization was excellent and the cast members credible. I travelled their journeys, gripped . I could not put it down and read it in a day.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 14 November 2006
I love her novels set in London....great plot..only slight complaint would be the use of coincidence in something found by a character in the book...but I willingly suspend disbelief to enjoy the thrill of another page-turner!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 November 2007
Murder, blackmail and deceit lie at the heart of Ruth Rendell's wickedly devious The Water's Lovely where the shady past inevitably reaches its sticky fingers into the complicated present. Ismay Sealand lives with her sister Heather in a ground floor flat in North London. Upstairs lives their aunt Pamela who spends most of her days looking after Ismay and Heather's mentally deranged mother Beatrix who shouts out violent passages from the Book of Revelations after she went off the deep-end when a death shook the family twelve years ago.
What first appears, as a rather civilized family arrangement is in fact a sort of pact based on an incident involving Beatrix's second husband, Guy who allegedly drowned in the upstairs bathroom. Heather supposedly murdered Guy after she witnessed him touching and kissing Ismay in appropriate ways. Doing little to alleviate Guy's advances, perhaps because she was secretly attracted to him, Ismay has spent the past twelve years dreaming over the drowned Guy and also over what exactly had Heather done, if anything.
The four have continued to coexist in a convenient relationship, in particular Ismay and Heather as they are sisters and are also very close. Living together, they have never discussed the changes to the house, still less what happened on that hot and sweaty August day when she was fifteen and Heather was two years younger.
The verdict was accidental death, the bruises on Guy's ankles dismissed as due to some other cause. But seeing how it looked - Heather's wet dress, the wet shoes, her dislike of Guy, and also Beatrix's lie that gave her an alibi, her need to protect her from police questioning have thrown Ismay into a maelstrom of anguish and for ten years. Ismay has constantly probed and speculated and wondered. Suppose if she found out about Heather, what could she do with the truth she discovered it?
This delicate familiaral balance is upset when Ismay falls in love with Andrew Campbell-Sedge, a stuffy and self-involved lawyer who takes an instant dislike to Heather and her latest beau Edmund Litton, a diffident hospice nurse, who still lives with his horribly autocratic mother Irine. Ismay is swept away by the throws of passion, but Andrew steadfastly refuses to live in the flat while Heather is there. Heather is a thorn in Ismay's side, "a mistress of the persistent silence, and "a gorgon." "It would matter less of she didn't live with you."
Meanwhile, petty thief and confidence trickster Marion cheats and lies her way in and out of elderly people's lives, especially those with money such as the kindly octogenarian Avice, who adores her two pet rabbits and is seeking someone like Marion to look after them. At her heart Marion is a cold-blooded opportunist and a ruthless blackmailer who will stop at nothing to convert Avice's will so that she will be the only beneficiary of much of the poor woman's wealth.
Particularly heedful of Marion is the irascible Irene, who thinks Marion will make a perfect wife for her beloved Edmund. Possessing a weak constitution with migraines that plague her for days on end and perpetually tired with acid indigestion, she sees Edmund's commitment with Heather as brittle and delicate; certainly the young girl is gauche to say the least. She's also appalled at her son's intentions to take out mortgage on a flat on his salary when he would be far happier living with her and her four-bedroom house at his disposal.
Presented with a family structure that they cannot seem to undo, Heather and Ismay become ever more involved with the Litton's and also with Marion who - along with the help of Fowler - her transient and dumpster scavenging brother - weaves together her web of murder and extortion. The multi-layered plot hinges on a brown bottle of morphine sulfate, a tape of Ismay's which falls into the wrong hands, and of course Ismay's reoccurring dreams, of Guy dead under the water, and all of the other dreams peopled by her mother, Pamela and Heather, and once by two older policemen one of which plays an integral part in Sealand family's secret.
The strength of The Water's Lovely is Rendell's fabulous ability to present such beautifully selfish characters who end up becoming so totally skewed in the perceptions of themselves and of each other. Everyone has subsequently modeled their lives on the assumption that Heather had essentially murdered Guy, especially by living the way they lived; Beatrix in madness, Ismay watching over Heather, and everyone over the years so totally convinced that Heather had actually done away with her stepfather.
Rendell continues to expound on her themes of misguided obsession and the kinds of mistrusts and suspicions that can lie at the heart of the human psyche. Set against a backdrop of the author's beloved Finchley Road and Chudleigh Hill area of London, Rendell proves that difficult times do indeed draw her characters into an unknown terrain: When a secondary character is ruthlessly murdered in a park one night, in the end, Ismay really does believe that Heather murdered Guy and that given the right circumstances, her sister might do it again.
Full of carefully crafted contrivances, The Water's Lovely proves that you can never really hide from the events of the past and that the kind of disconnections and misunderstandings that appear throughout can have devastating consequences for all. Mike Leonard November 07.