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"You can't judge a sausage by it's overcoat."
on 26 March 2013
Barbara Vine always sets her novels up very carefully, revealing just so much and no further in order to keep her readers poised on the verge of discovery. Though she sometimes lingers too long on this setting up, she is grand mistress of her genre. Where some might rush through this essential part of the novel, she takes her time. In one sense she has to do this because there are a characters that will move in and out of the action, providing a complex narrative, each with a part to play.
It is the sixties and a house where the host, Cosette, allows a great deal of freedom to her guests who come and go as they like. Elizabeth is the narrator through whom we are given access to much that happens. But then Elizabeth doesn't know everything, and some things she thinks she knows are distinctly wrong. Most of the details relating to what happens in this sixties novel are spot on. The candles which became de rigueur at a sixties party, the spliff smoked in the garden, passed round on a pin. Occasionally one wonders how well things might really have gone with such a mixture of ages in a house, but Cosette's largess rings true, especially after she finds love with a much younger man. Bell, who everyone thinks is his sister (Bell's lies haunt the novel's development) is not who she says she is, and slowly the backstory unravels, bringing a chilling end for one person, and the ruin of betrayal for another.
This is a chilling story altogether, another of Ruth Rendell's alter ego's profound successes.