6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Lost in the family-tree forest,
This review is from: The Blood Doctor (Hardcover)
Whenever I start a book and see its opening pages include complex multi-layered family trees I always shudder. It’s a sign that the story is going to be filled with characters whose relationships will be impossible to follow without careful and constant study of the family tree. And the plot will become inevitably entwined with the tree, a case perhaps of not being able to see the wooden plot for the family trees.
But I decided to give it a chance. After all the author, Ruth Rendell using her Barabara Vine pen name, is generally eminently readable. The story has three strands, the main one being the unravelling of the life of the main character’s Victorian ancestor who makes the study of haemophilia his life’s work. The other plot strands include the affect on the main character’s life of the House of Lords reform where he sits as a life peer (Ruth Rendell, as a Labour peer in the House of Lords, draws upon first hand experience here), along with his wife’s attempts to produce a child.
The three plot strands are brought together by a single theme, that of blood. Or rather, blood as inheritance, genetics and the handing down of privileges and characteristics through the generations.
But what of the story itself? There’s no doubt that the author can write, and write well. However she fails to make this a really compelling story. She includes far too much irrelevant detail that adds nothing to the plot. The story only really gets going in the second half of the book and even then it hardly thunders along. The ending is fairly easy to spot and there aren’t many surprises or twists – then again this isn’t Rendell, it’s her Vine alter-ego, so we shouldn’t be expecting a page-turning, plot-heavy story. Look to Robert Goddard for similar stories but with far more pace and far cleverer plots.
Nevertheless I would have liked to have seen something more compelling than this. The lack of a “message”, or even any real point, means that you’re left feeling slightly empty. It needs less trivial detail, more coherence in terms of bringing the three plot strands together, and perhaps even a thinner family tree.
If you take it on expect some heavy going, along with frequent visits to the family trees in order to keep track of who’s who and what’s going on. Not a book for Rendell fans.