Top positive review
22 people found this helpful
Love and Prejudice 3.5 Stars
on 4 February 2013
Writing as Barbara Vine, Ruth Rendell's 'A Child's Child' begins in 2011 where we meet Grace, a university lecturer working on her PhD thesis on illegitimacy in English fiction, who is living with her gay brother, Andrew, in a large, book-filled house in Hampstead, which they have inherited from their grandmother. Andrew and Grace live together quite happily until Andrew falls in love with a writer, James, and asks him to move in. Unfortunately, Grace and James do not really get along with each other, especially after they have a heated disagreement about the treatment of gay men compared to that of single mothers; however, when James is shocked and upset at the murder of a gay friend outside a Soho nightclub, and goes to Grace for comfort, they find themselves in a situation which surprises both of them considerably. Whilst Grace tries to concentrate less on James and Andrew and to focus instead on her PhD, she begins to read 'The Child's Child' an unpublished manuscript written in 1951, given to her by a friend and based on a true story about a young, unmarried mother and her gay brother, whose story, Grace realises, has some uncomfortable parallels with her own situation.
The story then moves to 1929 where, in a novel within a novel format, we learn about brother and sister, Maud and John Goodwin, and their unusual life together. When Maud is fifteen she becomes pregnant, and when her shocked parents plan to send her away, John offers to take Maud to live with him, ostensibly as his wife, so that she can keep her child. Although John is genuinely concerned for Maud in her predicament, his offer is not totally altruistic, for John has been having a passionate sexual relationship with a feckless, but very attractive young man named Bertie and, disgusted by his homosexuality and fearing imprisonment, he wishes to end the relationship. However, although things initially go as planned, once Maud's baby is born and John meets up with Bertie again, a whole series of events begin, leaving no one in the story unscathed... (No spoilers, we learn most of this fairly early on in the novel and there is a lot more for prospective readers to discover).
The 'novel within a novel' covers almost two hundred pages and forms the main part of this book, with the present day story forming the first and last few chapters and, in this way, the author examines how the judgemental attitudes of the 1930s compare with those of the present day, and how those attitudes affected the lives of the people involved. It is interesting to read how, although John empathises with his sister in her situation and offers to help, when Maud discovers John's homosexuality, she is disgusted and her reaction reflects the same attitude as those in society who would have condemned her as an unmarried mother. Although I found this novel an entertaining read, with a rather old-fashioned feel to it, it did seem as if the modern day chapters had been tacked onto the main part of John's and Maud's story - so this is not a dual time frame novel where the story moves between the two periods of time throughout the entire book, keeping the reader interested in both stories at the same time. Also I should perhaps just add that if you are expecting a psychological thriller of intrigue and suspense, in Ruth Rendell's/Barbara Vine's trademark style, then this may disappoint; that said, I found 'The Child's Child' an interesting story of love, prejudice and betrayal, and of how self-righteous moral judgements can cast a shadow over the lives of not just those immediately involved, but also those who follow afterwards.