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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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This is a beautifully written, well nuanced novel of mystery and suspense that seamlessly moves between the past and the present. The past is told through the diaries of a Danish immigrant named Asta, who went to live in Edwardian England with her husband, Rasmus, and two young sons at the turn of the century. Settling down in East London in 1905, her loveless marriage and loneliness drove Asta to keep a journal of her innermost thoughts and experiences.
Though married to a man who spent a great deal of time away from home on business and with whom she seemed to have little in common, she added two more children to her family, daughters, Swanny, her favorite, and Maria, the youngest. Asta's lyrically written journals would chronicle her life, her struggles as an immigrant, her hopes and dreams, and her adoration of Swanny. They would also tantalizingly hint at a secret that would, ultimately, impact on her daughter, Swanny, later in life.
Over seventy years later, those diaries, all forty nine of them, would be discovered and become a publishing sensation and a bestseller. Within its many pages would lie the missing pieces to a turn of the century murder mystery and the leads to the whereabouts of a missing child, as well as tantalizing clues to the puzzling circumstances surrounding Swanny's birth. This information would lie dormant until nearly a century after Asta first put pen to paper, when Asta's granddaughter, Maria's daughter Ann, would review the diaries and discover not only the secret of Swanny's birth, but the identity of a missing child, as well as that of a killer, who nearly a century earlier had butchered two women.
This is a book well worth reading, and one that will command the reader's attention until the very last page is turned.
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on 13 March 2001
Barbara Vine is in complete control in "Asta's Book" with a plot and a voice which is totally convincing. There is no hint of melodrama or corny contrivance and the mystery unwinds steadily without sudden shocks and hysterics. The sleuthing is a mixture of digging about in old diaries and rational deductions which are a fresh contrast to the shock tactics and psychobabble of mainstream American murder fiction. There is dense detail and painstaking scene setting reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith at her best but nothing is wasted and the final solution is brilliant while at the same time simple and emotionally satisfying. Stick with this book even if you find it slow at first - it keeps you thinking and it keeps you believing. Vine's best book by some way and better than the Rendell series. It's first rate fiction and top quality writing.
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on 5 September 2000
Ruth Rendell produces a well researched, intriguing novel with Asta's Book. The book has a slow start and at nearly four hundred and fifty pages is perhaps a bit too long. But what it lacks in the early stages, it more than makes up for by the end. The story flickers back and forth between the turn of the century and the present as we are told about several generations of a family. We are presented with a murder (well what else would you expect with a Rendell novel) and a mystery of identity, which provides the real twist. Original and gripping as it progresses, this is one of the best Barbara Vine novels. It'll make you smile as you close it at the end!
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on 12 July 2015
Item arrived in very good condition. This is my favourite Vine/Rendell novel and have read it several times. This time I wanted to hear what the audio version was like. Well, it is narrated by Dame Harriet Walter who is one of the UK's best actors - so I knew it was going to be a superb performance rather than a simple audio of the book. And that is exactly what was delivered. This is a one-woman performance who uses every nuance within the text to bring the characters alive. Ms. Walter even reads out the Danish part of Asta's diary which in itself is admirable. This is a standout unabridged version of this novel and I strongly recommend you buy it! Enjoy!
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on 7 November 1999
This novel would be Dame Ruth's masterpiece regardless of which name it was published under, although it is very much a Vine novel. As regards the intricacy of its construction and execution I can think of nothing that comes near it asVine seamlessly weaves together 3 apparently unconnected narratives (a diary, a trial transcript, and a present-day narrative) into one astonishing novel. As always, Rendell easily slips back and forth in time, sometimes within the same paragraph. I've read this book five times and am always recommending it to readers. It disappoints me that although Rendell/Vine is a crtitics' favorite in the US, has won 3 Edgar Awards and is a Grand Master, her readership in the US (where this novel was retitled ANNA'S BOOK) lags far behind the mega-selling authors who aren't nearly as good. However, I'm quite sure that her works will ultimately outlast theirs ...
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on 25 August 2008
I first read Asta's Book in three days, and have lost count of the amount of times I have re-read it. The plot is original and gripping, the characters are wonderfully real, and the description of life in 1905 is fascinating.
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on 27 April 2006
Barbara Vine has written a masterpiece. In the USA it's called "Anna's Book", in the U.K. it's "Asta's Book". Completely engrossing, superbly drafted plot keeps your interest throughout the novel. A novel to be placed next to her award winning ,"A Dark-Adapted Eye" on your bookshelf. A must read.
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on 20 February 2010
Asta's Book is enjoyable on several levels, not least the style and use of language which set this apart from a 'standard crime novel'. The story is so engaging that the reader swiftly becomes immersed and ultimately feels as if the account is factual rather than fictional. The historical episode which is at the heart of the mystery is particularly well handled, and has echoes of a couple of real life cases of the period. While the image of the child who climbs away up the stairs and disappears from sight is an image which lingers and haunts the reader throughout the story and beyond. Like Vine's excellent novel 'A Dark Adapted Eye' this is a story bound up in the questions of identity and motherhood, as well as a whoddunit, (although it is not specifically a woman's book, and should appeal to male as well as female readers). Well paced, intricate...cannot recommend it highly enough.
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on 27 April 2002
I picked this book out without realising it was written by Ruth Rendell. When I saw that Barbara Vine was her pseudonym I was disappointed. I thought that I'd have to plough through pages of gore and guts (I've seen too many trailers for Ruth Rendell murder dramatisations on the TV).
It wasn't at all like that. The murder wasn't gory and it wasn't gratuitous. The story was well woven and intelligent. I didn't feel patronised - I felt stretched when I'd read it.
I've read The Quincunx by Charles Palliser and Instance of a Fingerpost by Ian Pearson recently - both novels for those of you who want something a bit meaty to read.
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This is a beautifully written, well-nuanced novel of mystery and suspense that seamlessly moves between the past and the present. The past is told through the diaries of a Danish immigrant named Asta, who went to live in Edwardian England with her husband, Rasmus, and two young sons at the turn of the century. Settling down in East London in 1905, her loveless marriage and loneliness drove Asta to keep a journal of her innermost thoughts and experiences.
Though married to a man who spent a great deal of time away from home on business and with whom she seemed to have little in common, she added two more children to her family, daughters, Swanny, her favorite, and Maria, the youngest. Asta's lyrically written journals would chronicle of her life, her struggles as an immigrant, her hopes and dreams, and her adoration of Swanny. They would also tantalizingly hint at a secret that would, ultimately, impact on her daughter, Swanny, later in life.

Over seventy years later, those diaries, all forty nine of them, would be discovered and become a publishing sensation and a bestseller. Within its many pages would lie the missing pieces to a turn of the century murder mystery and the leads to the whereabouts of a missing child, as well as tantalizing clues to the puzzling circumstances surrounding Swanny's birth. This information would lie dormant until nearly a century after Asta first put pen to paper, when Asta's granddaughter, Maria's daughter Ann, would review the diaries and discover not only the secret of Swanny's birth, but the identity of a missing child, as well as that of a killer, who nearly a century earlier had butchered two women.
This is a book well worth reading, and one that will command the reader's attention until the very last page is turned.
11 comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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